BOSTON (CBS) – It’s that unmistakable time of the year when the city of Boston is abuzz.
The Red Sox will open their home portion of the season Friday. The Celtics are capping their regular season. Thousands will line up in Hopkinton on Monday to do some ungodly long run. But the most important event happens Thursday night at the TD Garden, as the Boston Bruins will put their fans on, hopefully, another two-month emotional roller coaster ride.
The Bruins will be looking to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings did it 14 years ago in 1998 by sweeping the Washington Capitals.
Wouldn’t you know, the Bruins kick off the Cup defense against those Washington Capitals, with Game 1 of the best-of-seven series Thursday night in Boston? Some see Washington as the team that could upset the Bruins in the first round. I’m not so sure about that, although the Caps did win the regular season series 3-1.
The Bruins are back to playing their game in which they hit, force turnovers and challenge their opponents. And with Tim Thomas giving them the kind of goaltending they need — like he did last year — anything is possible.
They also need to restrain the offensive punch of Washington.
Alexander Ovechkin, by many accounts, had an off-year and “only” scored 38 goals and led the Caps in scoring, but he also has a pretty good supporting cast in Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, who has missed more than half the season but is back on the blue line.
Injuries always come into play, and both teams are missing a few key players. Tuukka Rask practiced with the team this week and seems to be coming along, but right now it wouldn’t surprise me if he was sitting on the bench backing up Thomas come Thursday night. Adam McQuaid is out with an upper body injury (possibly a concussion) and it looks like he will not start the playoffs. Johnny Boychuk is day-to-day with his knee but has been skating and could return Thursday evening.
On the other side, the Caps are missing both of the goaltenders they leaned on all season. Tomas Vokoun is out with a groin injury, deadly for a true butterfly goalie, and Michal Neuvirth is nursing a lower body injury. Braden Holtby will be the Game 1 starter Thursday, backed up by journeyman/lifetime AHL-er — and one time Providence Bruin — Dany Sabourin. They don’t necessarily have Vezina material, but the Caps are hoping for the rookie to come up big as they go for the upset.
There is not a lot of difference between this season’s team and last year, minus the fact that the B’s have had mood swings all year.
October was a big laugh. In November and December, the Bruins were unbeatable. From January until mid-March, they were a .500 team that seemed to wander around not knowing what they were doing. Focus had been the issue, until hey finished the year with a solid 7-2-1 run and began to resemble the team they — and we all — think they are.
The Bruins have to be physical with the highly skilled players on the Caps, and Zdeno Chara has always played well against Ovechkin. If Claude Julien employs the pairing of Chara with Dennis Seidenberg, which was a huge factor in last year’s Cup run, it should fare well for Boston.
Offensively, I see no changes in line for Boston, as leading scorer Tyler Seguin (who had more points than “The Great 8”) will continue with Patrice Bergeron (my MVP of the team) at center and Brad Marchand on the other side. The depth of this team is what will make the difference, as all four lines will have to continue to give solid contributions.
I generally do not make predictions of Bruins playoff series, because for 39 years it was all too crushing when you let your heart get in the way of your head. I’m a little more pragmatic as I am older. However, my editor asked for the predictions from all of us CBSBostonsports.com bloggers.
So, with goaltending always being magnified this time of year, Mr. Holtby may come up with some sparkling saves on occasion, but really, I see no reason why the Bruins offense will be stymied. Tim Thomas, until proven otherwise, should be his old playoff self.
Bruins win in six games!