(Sports Network) - The 2011-12 regular season was an inconsistent one for the
Boston Bruins, but the defending Stanley Cup champions hope to be on an upward
trajectory when the NHL's postseason gets underway.
The Bruins won their first Stanley Cup title since 1972 last spring,
outlasting heavily-favored Vancouver in seven games. Boston has displayed that
championship form at certain points during the 2011-12 season, while at other
times head coach Claude Julien's club has appeared lost.
Boston was just 3-7 to start the season before going on a stellar 25-4-1 run
that lasted from the beginning of November until early January.
During that two-month tear it seemed like the Bruins were destined to become
the first NHL club to win consecutive Cups since Detroit pulled off the feat
in 1997 and '98. However, the hot streak was quickly followed by an even
longer slump than the one that plagued Boston at the start of the year,
But, after going 12-16-2 from Jan. 14-March 15, the Bruins were able to right
the ship in time to win the Northeast Division title, finishing the season on
a 9-2-1 run.
On paper, Boston looks a lot like the championship squad from last spring.
Zdeno Chara still looms large on the blue line and two-time Vezina Trophy
winner Tim Thomas remains one of the league's best goaltenders. The Bruins did
improve their scoring this season, as sophomore forward Tyler Seguin led the
way for Boston's offense with a breakout campaign.
Thomas was not as dominant in 2011-12 as he'd been in winning his second
Vezina last year, but a 35-19-1 record and a 2.36 goals-against average hardly
constitutes a down season.
One concern for Thomas heading into the playoffs is that due to an injury to
steady backup Tuukka Rask he had to play in more games down the stretch this
season than he did at the end of the 2010-11 campaign. He will turn 38 years
old during this series, but Thomas is still only one year removed from winning
the Conn Smythe Trophy. Thomas won the postseason MVP award after going 16-9
with a 1.98 GAA and .940 percentage in 25 playoff games last spring.
Roaming the area in front of Thomas' crease will be Chara, who at 6-foot-9 is
one of the most unique talents the NHL has ever seen. The mammoth Slovakian is
obviously a physical presence on the blue line, but he also plays a well-
rounded game that includes the NHL's hardest slapshot. Chara's goal total was
down this year, as he potted 12 markers, but his 40 assists and 52 total
points were both personal bests.
Chara led Boston with an even 25 minutes of ice time per game and his skating
partner Dennis Seidenberg was less than a minute behind in that category.
Seidenberg was fourth among Bruins defenseman in scoring this season with 23
points. Joe Corvo and Andrew Ference added 25 and 24 points, respectively,
from the blue line.
Johnny Boychuk, who was third on Boston's blue line in ice time this season
after Chara and Seidenberg, is expected to be ready for Game 1 of this series
despite sitting out the final two games of the regular season with a sprained
Boston finished sixth in defense this year with 199 goals allowed this year,
10 more than it surrendered during the 2010-11 campaign. On offense, the
Bruins went from 244 goals last season to 260 goals in 2011-12.
Seguin, who was selected by Boston with the second overall pick of the 2010
draft, was a healthy scratch at times during last year's Cup run, but the 20-
year-old has since become an indispensable part of the Bruins offense. Seguin
had 11 goals and 11 assists in 74 games as a rookie in 2010-11, but this year
he led Boston in goals (29) and points (67) while also posting the club's
second-best plus/minus rating (plus-34).
Patrice Bergeron is Boston's best all-around forward and is a favorite to win
the Selke Trophy this season as the league's top defensive forward. Bergeron
finished second to Seguin in points with 64 (22 goals, 42 assists) and led the
team with a plus-36 rating.
All told, Boston had six forwards post 20 goals or more, including Brad
Marchand, who was second to Seguin with 28 goals. Milan Lucic and David Krejci
added 26 and 23 goals, respectively.
Boston will be missing one key player from last year's Cup run and that is
forward Nathan Horton, who sat out the final 36 games of the regular season
with a concussion. Horton, who had 17 points in 21 games for the Bruins during
the 2011 postseason, has not yet been cleared for contact and is expected to
miss the entire playoffs.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS (7th seed, East)
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 42-32-8
2011 PLAYOFFS: Defeated NY Rangers 4-1 in conference quarterfinals; lost to
Tampa Bay 4-0 in conference semifinals.
(Sports Network) - After four straight years of following up dominant regular
seasons with disappointing playoff runs, things changed for the Washington
Capitals in 2011-12. Unfortunately for the Capitals, the difference this
season was that the club struggled to even make the playoffs.
Washington failed to win the Southeast Division this year for the first time
since the 2006-07 campaign, as the Florida Panthers claimed the division crown
for their first playoff appearance since the spring of 2000. As a result, the
seventh-seeded Caps enter this postseason with their lowest seeding since they
were also No. 7 in the 1996 playoffs.
The Caps are still led by star winger Alex Ovechkin, but the Russian sniper is
coming off the two-worst point totals of his NHL career over the past two
seasons. After posting 32 goals and 85 points in 79 games for Washington in
2010-11, the 26-year-old Ovechkin had 38 goals and 65 points in 78 contests
Ovechkin, Washington's captain, was criticized by many for a lack of passion
this season and his slow start to 2011-12 may have hastened the dismissal of
head coach Bruce Boudreau, who was fired after Washington went 12-9-1 to start
the season. Dale Hunter took over for Boudreau behind the bench and did not
fare much better, leading Washington to a 30-23-7 record over the final four-
plus months of the season.
A promising development for the Caps is that Ovechkin played his best hockey
of the season down the stretch, scoring 11 of his 38 goals over Washington's
final 13 games. Despite never being able to lead Washington past the second
round, Ovechkin has compiled 25 goals and 25 assists over 37 career playoff
An even bigger concern for Washington than Ovechkin's inconsistent play is the
current situation in goal. The Caps may be forced to use their third string
goaltender at the start of this series thanks to injuries to Tomas Vokoun and
Vokoun would have been the No. 1, but the veteran is out indefinitely with a
strained groin suffered in his last game on March 29. Neuvirth, meanwhile, is
dealing with an unspecified lower-body injury that cause him to miss
Washington's final game of the regular season.
If Neuvirth, who has been deemed day-to-day by Hunter, is unable to start Game
1, then the Capitals will use 22-year-old Braden Holtby, who is 14-4-3 in 21
career NHL appearances, but has never played a second in the Stanley Cup
Neuvirth was 13-13-5 with a 2.82 GAA in 38 games (30 starts) this season. The
24-year-old Czech backstop is 4-5 with a 2.34 GAA in nine career postseason
Washington had just one player post more than a point-per-game this season and
that was centerman Nicklas Backstrom. The Swedish pivot had 44 points (14g,
30a) in 42 games during a campaign that was cut short by a lengthy absence due
to a concussion. Backstrom returned for the final four games of the regular
season and posted one goal and one assist over that stretch.
Despite missing nearly half the season, Backstrom finished fourth among
Washington forwards in points. Alexander Semin was second to Ovechkin with 54
points (21g, 33a) and Marcus Johansson was third with 46 points on 14 goals
and 32 assists.
Overall, Washington's 218 goals this season was the 14th-best total in the
Dennis Wideman led the Capitals' blue line in both goals (11) and assists
(35), but he is primarily an offensive defenseman. Fellow blueliner Mike
Green, another offense-first rearguard, had just three goals and four assists
while playing in just 32 games during an injury-plagued season. Since posting
an amazing 31 goals in 68 games in 2008-09, Green has recorded 30 tallies in
156 regular-season contests over the past three campaigns.
Elsewhere on the blue line, the Caps have a couple of solid youngsters in John
Carlson and Karl Alzner, who are 22 and 23 years of age, respectively. Carlson
was second to Wideman with 32 points from the back end this season, while
Alzner had one goal, 16 assists and a team-best plus-12 rating.
Veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik was a plus-11 in 68 games for the Capitals
Whether or not the Bruins can regain the form that made them Cup champions
last year remains to be seen, but Boston shouldn't need its "A" game to get
past the Capitals.
Washington did win three of four meetings against the Bruins this year, but
two of those three wins came during Boston's dreadful two-month stretch from
early-January to mid-March.
Ovechkin failed to score a goal in three games against the Bruins this year,
but he did post three assists. Marchand had three goals and two assists in
four games against Washington, while Bergeron recorded five assists during the
The Bruins and Capitals have split a pair of all-time playoff meetings. The
last time the clubs met in the postseason was in the 1998 conference
quarterfinals, when Washington won in six games en route to their first and
only Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
A team with Boston's dedication to defense should be able to make quick work
of a Washington club that has little secondary scoring to complement Ovechkin.
Add in an uncertain situation in net for the Caps and this could wind up being
the most lopsided series of the opening round.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bruins in 5
The Sports Network