Two games have been played thus far in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals. Both games were played in Boston. Both went to overtime. Both were low scoring. Both teams won one.
That is where the comparisons end.
Game 1 went to the Bruins by a score of 1-0 as Chris Kelly snuck one past Capitals rookie netminder Braden Holtby’s glove off a slap shot from the top of the faceoff circles just 78 seconds into the first overtime session. It was a lockdown, defensive battle with both teams doing their best to leave offense out of it and were content focusing on grinding out their opponent, not giving up any quality chances, rather than creating any of their own.
The Bruins might have won the game, but the story in Game 1 was the play of Holtby, who turned away 29 Bruins shots before letting the first attempt against him in overtime through, and the overly defensive and aggressive shot blocking of the Capitals.
While Boston looked much of the same in Game 2, the Capitals’ play took a dramatic turn as they opened up their game, employing their speed and bringing their offense to play. Once again both Holtby and Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas stood out as the top headlines of the game, combining to yield just two goals while making 76 saves through four periods of hockey to carry their teams into double overtime, but the Capitals were noticeably more aggressive in the offensive zone in Game 2.
After struggling throughout the regular season, the Capitals have found their groove over the last two games, looking as though they have regained their swagger of old, controlling much of the play in the series since the third period of Game 1. They are still playing the patient, defense first style they have been trying to employ all year, but they have started to once ago show the offensive flair that has made them so successful over the past few seasons. And making them even more dangerous is the performance of Holtby, who has matched the two-time Vezina winner in Thomas and grows more confident with each save.
So what will Game 3 bring?
On the defensive end, Boston has been stellar. Even though they are trying to focus on defense first, Washington’s roster is still home to some of the most offensively skilled players in the NHL and the Bruins have been able to, for the most part, keep things contained through the first two games. Tim Thomas looks nearly as good as he did during his heroic performance last postseason with just two goals against, one of which was a fluke that is more a result of a defensive breakdown by Greg Zanon, rather than a misplay by Thomas. The reunited defensive pair of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg has picked up where it left off after shutting down some of the league’s most notorious offenses last spring.
Spending most of their time playing against Alexander Ovechkin, Chara and Seidenberg have done everything they can to lay a body on the Russian star whenever they have the chance, while limiting the Capitals captain to just one assist and four shots in two games. Even the second and third defensive units for the Bruins – Johnny Boychuk/Andrew Ference and Zanon/Joe Corvo – have done their part mostly containing the likes of Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin. Despite Backstrom accounting for the game-winner in Game 2, neither has been able to overpower the Bruins for too many quality chances.
Offensively, on the other hand, is where the Bruins should be looking to change their approach come Game 3 on Monday night in Washington. As has been the key to much of their success in recent years, through the first two games the Bruins have held tight to their defensive scheme, laying back and allowing the play to come to them, rather than forcing anything up ice to not give up anything of quality to their opponents. Both of their goals in this series have come off transition, which has always been the essence of Claude Julien’s offense.
It is a smart scheme. Do not make mistakes and capitalize on those of your opponent. One has to think, however, the fewer chances each team has, the more the series favors the offensive firepower of the Capitals. The Bruins are going to have to step their game up as the Capitals did in Game 2 and start creating more offensive chances for themselves.
Trailing the Montreal Canadiens 0-2 at the start of last year’s playoffs, a roster shake up by Julien, putting Chara and Seidenberg together, put a spark in the Bruins play that elevated them the rest of the way. It is something Julien consider once again with his team struggling against the Capitals and the best place for him to start would be to take Rich Peverley off the top line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic and swap places with Tyler Seguin. Peverley has looked slow and rusty since his return from an MCL sprain. Replacing him with Seguin’s speed could generate the offense the Bruins top two lines have been missing so far this series.
There is also the fact the Bruins second unit of Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand has been used in a primarily defensive capacity, skating with Chara and Seidenberg against Ovechkin. Smart to have Bergeron’s defensive presence out against the Capitals top line, but the defense first mentality of that line restricts one of the Bruins best offensive threats in Seguin, taking away his ability to create. Peverley, who started the season playing with Marchand and Bergeron, would fit in nicely with those two, bringing a slightly better defensive edge than Seguin. Since coming to Boston, Peverley has also shown his greatest chances on the offensive end come off of plays made in the defensive end and in transition, which is exactly what the Bergeron line is trying to do. Adding the team’s leading scorer alongside Krejci and Lucic should also provide the much needed boost to the Bruins current scoring woes.
Whether Julien makes any changes to his lineup or not, the Bruins are going to need to start getting offensive contributions out of their top six forwards in order to beat the Capitals. As it stands, only the third line has recorded any offensive points. Their secondary scoring is vital to the Bruins’ success, but it will not win the series alone. Together, the Bruins combined for the second best average goals scored per game in the regular season at 3.17. Even if Thomas continues to stand on his head, they will need their most offensive weapons – Krejci, Lucic and Seguin – whether playing together or not, to start creating and contributing in order to keep their hopes for a repeat afloat past the first round.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.