For a technically low-stakes game* in mid-January, Thursday’s bout between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins brings a lot of sizzle to the table.
You’re forgiven if this might sneak up on you, but this is the first time these two teams will face off since the memorable season-opener when the Capitals bombarded the Bruins 7-0.
Naturally, this also means that this is the first time that Lars Eller can exact revenge – or, perhaps, take a foolish penalty trying to exact revenge – on Brad Marchand, who memorably went after Eller after the Dane rubbed him the wrong way with a goal celebration during the blowout.
The Bruins might (secretly) hope that Marchand can get the Capitals off their games, which is plausible with Eller holding that grudge, and also considering that Tom Wilson was unavailable during that opener thanks to his suspension. Boston might want that distraction when you realize that the Capitals have dominated the Bruins for quite some time, even beyond that 7-0 drubbing.
As NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty notes, the Bruins are trying to brush off the fact that they want to break Washington’s 13-game winning streak against the B’s.
“It’s more about that this team has had our number for the last number of years, and we need to get over that hurdle,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We’ve got to get over the hurdle. They’re the Stanley Cup champions, and if you want to be the best then you’ve got to beat the best. I know it’s a long season, but we’re playing good hockey and I’d like to think our guys are going to be confident going into the game. Not thinking about what happened opening night or over the years, but still have a bit of an ‘Enough is enough’ type of attitude as well. You just don’t want to overthink and go ‘Here we go again’ if the first 10 minutes don’t go your way.”
That’s the thing when it comes to Eller and Marchand, and the potential mistakes that can come from score-settling. While the Bruins and Capitals are comfortably placed in playoff position, there are carrots dangling for both teams. Washington can strengthen its grip over the top spot in the Metro. Meanwhile, the Bruins are only two points behind the Maple Leafs for the second Atlantic seed (though Toronto has a game in hand), yet the Sabres are only two points behind Boston for the third spot (with both teams at 43 games played).
This is more than just a chance for the Bruins to finally clear the obstacle that is the Capitals. They also can give a glimpse of what they’re capable of as a healthier team, something they’ve already done by rattling off five consecutive wins.
Rather than going after Marchand, the Capitals have a chance to instead hurt the Bruins on the scoreboard — once again.
Not bad for the “dog days” of the NHL season, right?
* – After all, both teams would make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs began right now, and they’re comfortably positioned to stay that way.