Washington Capitals v Boston Bruins

Playoff matchups: Bruins begin title defense against Capitals


For years, the Washington Capitals have carried the label of heavy favorites. However you frame those stories, it’s never ended well for Alex Ovechkin & Co., but 2012 represents an interesting flip of the script. This time around, they’ll be the seventh seed upstarts against the second-ranked defending champion Boston Bruins.

There was a point during this season when Boston appeared to be a behemoth on a level rarely seen in the salary cap era. Injuries and inconsistency (and if you ask some, a botched photo-op at the White House) seemed to at least slow down the bandwagon, though.

Still, the Bruins have a two-time Vezina winner in net (Tim Thomas), a probable Hall of Famer on the blue line (Zdeno Chara) and some underrated tools on offense. That might be enough against a haggard Washington squad with stars who don’t seem to be 100 percent in Mike Green and maybe Nicklas Backstrom plus some serious goaltending questions with Tomas Vokoun and possibly Michal Neuvirth on the mend.

Ovechkin has somewhat-quietly been heating up, though, so it sets up the Capitals as an interesting underdog option. Washington also outplayed Boston in its meetings this season, taking three out of four wins. On the other hand, the Caps take a playoffs-worst 16-21-4 road record into Beantown.

So who strikes you as the likely winner: the big, bad Bruins or the confounding Caps? Let us know in the comments.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.