Bruins vs Capitals: 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview

It seemed inevitable the Bruins and Capitals would meet up in the postseason.

Both squads have a recent history of postseason success, with Washington taking the 2018 Stanley Cup and Boston appearing in the 2019 rendition.

They have a playoff history; historically, the Capitals have the Bruins number, dating back to the dramatic Game 7 First Round winner from Washington’s Joel Ward in 2012.

Add a little spice this year, though. Zdeno Chara, the Bruins long time captain, signed with the Capitals in the offseason after the B’s told him he would see a reduced role if he stayed.

His revenge tour or their revenge tour or however you want to slice it, it’s impossible to deny there’s something extra this time around.

CAPITALS VS. BRUINSseries livestream link

Saturday, May 15: Bruins at Capitals, 7:15 p.m. ET (NBC)
Monday, May 17: Bruins at Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Wednesday, May 19: Capitals at Bruins, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Friday, May 21: Capitals at Bruins, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
*Sunday, May 23: Bruins at Capitals TBD
*Tuesday, May 25: Capitals at Bruins TBD
*Thursday, May 27: Bruins at Capitals TBD

Bruins – Capitals Storylines

Chara takes on the Bruins

This is the obvious one. The 12-year captain of the Bruins, Boston let him walk in the offseason in order to play their younger defensemen. Since then, they had to go trade for Mike Reilly and Jakub Zboril barely plays, so make of it what you will.

Regardless of what worked out or didn’t, the narrative is through the roof. Chara, playing for the league minimum with the Capitals, can eliminate his former team. On the flip side, the Bruins can try to dispel the idea they should have retained the 43-year-old defensemen.

Either way, the emotion is going to palpable, and probably one of the more intriguing narratives of the first round overall.

Anthony Mantha‘s playoff debut and Caps health

With four goals and four assists since joining the Capitals at the trade deadline, Mantha has been a solid addition to an already physical, talented offense. He had never played in the postseason before in his six-year career with the Red Wings.

Given the Capitals health concerns — more on that later — Mantha might have an even larger role in the playoffs.

Washington isn’t limping into the playoffs per se, but it isn’t effortlessly gliding, either. All of Alex Ovechkin (lower body), T.J. Oshie (lower body), John Carlson (lower body), and Nicklas Backstrom (lower body) have been missing for parts of the last two weeks. As of now, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov remain on the COVID-19 protocol list, too.

The Bruins aren’t totally unscathed, with Ondrej Kase not ready to play yet and Charlie Coyle out of the lineup, but the Capitals are more banged up.

Series physicality

Everyone knows the Capitals can bang around. The Bruins are no stranger to a physical brand of hockey, either, especially when they have their full lineup.

The Tom Wilson factor is sure to be an unavoidable Thing, and mix in the Bruins have guys who will play with an edge as well — Kevan Miller, Brad Marchand, Trent Frederic, etc — and there’s a recipe for some after-the-whistle scrums.

“If you look back at the start of the year, you probably could have guessed it was going to play out this way,” Marchand said to reporters earlier this week. “It adds another storyline to the game and to the series. They’re obviously a very dominant team. Big, physical. That’s obviously where they gain a lot of emotion and energy from that. They have a lot of guys that play that way. They’re built to be heavy and be a playoff team. They’re built for the playoffs.”

Wilson’s hit on Brandon Carlo hospitalized him earlier this season and he had a lengthy recovery from concussion effects. That’s sure to be a narrative to keep an eye on as well.

Special teams

Washington’s power play has found success at a 30% clip against the Bruins this season. In a series expected to be filled with physical play, special teams might have even more of a factor.

The Bruins 85.9% penalty kill is second in the league but clearly hasn’t matched up that well against the Capitals. Washington is a frustrating team to play against and emotions will certainly run high. It’ll be up to the Bruins to stay disciplined and avoid out-frustrating themselves into being eliminated early.

One big question for Washington: Does goaltending hold up?

When the Capitals were the Bruins’ Big Bad, Braden Holtby was shutting them down every chance they had. He seemed unbeatable for Boston.

Holtby is now in Vancouver and the Capitals have had trouble nailing down the goalie position this year. Vitek Vanecek has been the primary starter, with Ilya Samsonov behind him. Vanecek finished with a .908 save percentage and 2.69 goals against, and has no postseason experience.

The rookie has held his own, but this is a season where it was widely speculated the Caps might have looked to upgrade at the trade deadline. They stuck with him, though, and that counts for something. We’ll see if it pays off.

Consider Vanecek and Samsonov’s goals saved above expected rates of -5.09 and -9.41 and that’s not overly confidence-inducing.

One big question for Boston: What does playoff Taylor Hall look like?

Taylor Hall has looked like a player reborn since joining the Bruins — that’ll happen when you can escape the worst team in the league. He’s played like the elite player he was projected to be when he was the top overall pick in 2011.

Hall doesn’t have much playoff experience, being mired in Edmonton and New Jersey and Arizona before this season. He played in two postseasons with the Devils and Coyotes where he had two goals and four assists for New Jersey, and last season had two goals and four assists with Arizona in the bubble.

It’s fair to say this Bruins team is projected to make a deeper run than either of those teams, or at least have a higher ceiling. He’s been good in the playoffs, but how he does with the Bruins in particular in the postseason could be career-defining.

PredictionBruins in 6

These aren’t the same Capitals who have given the Bruins fits over the years. The goaltending is considerably weaker, for one. The Bruins have had new life since the trade deadline behind Hall and Reilly. They’re playing like a legitimate contender, even without home ice.

It’ll be interesting what kind of a factor home ice does play for all the series. There aren’t many fans in the buildings with restrictions but it’s the first time anyone has had a crowd for a while to feed off of. So, who knows.

The Bruins energy regardless has been unmatched for about a month now. Can Washington take the first two games and put the pressure on them to create that energy in a deficit? That will be the key.

Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

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    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.