BOSTON (CBS) – So far in their pre-series comments, many players from the Washington Capitals haven’t been shy about claiming they can match the Bruins’ physicality in the upcoming Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
While the Caps don’t plan on getting pushed around the way the Vancouver Canucks did last June against basically the same Bruins roster, it remains to be seen if Washington will be able to back up its talk.
Regardless, the second-seeded Bruins will be ready for the seventh-seeded Caps to come straight at them with the body starting with Game 1 Thursday night at TD Garden.
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“I think they are underrated as far as how physical they are. You have their star players on their team, but the [Alexander] Ovechkins, the [Dennis] Widemans, the [Mike] Greens, they’re all pretty physical,” Bruins center Gregory Campbell said. “And they pick their spots and they’ll finish checks. I mean last game, Ovechkin laid me out there in the high slot. So it’s important for us, that’s the way we’re built, and in the playoffs every team is physical and every player is physical. Everybody finishes their checks and the compete level is that much higher. So it’s important to battle in all areas of the ice and finishing checks is a big part of the playoffs.”
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Even if the Caps attempt to turn their words to actions, the Bruins are still better suited to play a physical brand of hockey – as long as they don’t cross the line and wind up in the box. And that will be one of three keys to victory for the Bruins as they start their defense of last year’s Stanley Cup championship:
1. Play physical but don’t cross the line.
Sure, the Caps’ power play was just 18th in the NHL during the regular season and the Bruins’ penalty kill limited Washington to just one man-advantage goal in six opportunities through four head-to-head games. Still, you do not want to let a man-advantage led by Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Green a lot of kicks at the can, especially when the playoff intensity can wear down penalty-killers even more than a lot of shorthanded time can take its toll during the 82-game schedule. The Bruins’ penalty-killer pool, led by Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly, is deep, but there’s no reason for the Bruins to let the Caps get under their skin and even risk Washington grabbing momentum that way.
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2. Remember there’s more to Caps’ offense than Ovechkin.
Most of the Bruins’ staff and roster has done a great job of lauding Washington’s depth offensively beyond Ovechkin, including several mentions of Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich and the capable offensive defensemen the Caps have at their disposal. Once on the ice, that has to continue. We all know Zdeno Chara will be keeping his eyes, and eventually his body, glued to Ovechkin. Boston has to avoid taking the rest of the team lightly, especially if Chara does his usual suffocating job on Ovechkin.
3. Find a power play.
Boston’s problems on the power play last postseason were well-documented. They finished up with a respectable 10-for-88 success rate after starting out 0-for-21 against Montreal in the first round. Although head coach Claude Julien conceded that maybe his team’s grind-it-out offense doesn’t lend itself to boasting a potent power play, with talent like Bergeron, Chara, David Krejci and Tyler Seguin, the Bruins should be able to exploit the Caps’ 21st-ranked penalty kill. At the very least, they have to use their power plays to make the Caps work – that could tire them out a little bit for when they go on the attack.