Caps, Bruins Battling For Eastern Conference Semifinal Spot
By Stephen London
All of the season's controversies, winning streaks and storylines culminate tonight as the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins face elimination in Game 7 of the playoff series. The home-ice advantage is obviously in the Bruins' favor, but the Capitals have won two of three games thus far at TD Garden this series, while the Bruins won two of three at the Verizon Center.
The Capitals were the first team in the series to win two games in a row, Game 4 (2-1) and Game 5 (4-3). The series has usually gone in favor of the road team, although all of the first six games came down to just one goal, a first in NHL history.
On Sunday, Game 6 set a record for the most-watched, non-Stanley Cup Final game in the Washington, D.C. area. Game 6 earned a rating of 8.63 in the D.C. market, while the next-closest game in the area was Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs, with a rating of 8.10. Both games were losses for the Caps.
The Bruins have used their physicality during this series, going after Nick Backstrom after the whistle. If John Erskine stays in the lineup in place of Jeff Schultz, which should be the case, Erskine will help separate the Capitals and Bruins, playing the role of intimidator.
Bruins fans have been affectionately calling the Caps' rookie goaltender Braden Holtby "HoltBOY." Holtby has another chance to silence his critics in Boston. During each of the games at TD Garden, Holtby has faced more than 30 shots, with save percentages of 96.7 (Game 1), 97.7 (Game 2) and 91.9 (Game 5).
Holtby earned a 97.8 save percentage during Game 4 in Washington, but his save percentage went down to 91.9 in Game 5 and again to 87.1 in Game 6. Holtby needs to perform well for the Capitals to come away with the win.
Holtby's teammates can also assist him by reducing the number of penalties they commit. The Bruins have scored only two power-play goals during this series, but both came during the last two games. Power-play opportunities for the Bruins may be all the team needs to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
With the hometown Bruins crowd at full capacity, the Capitals need to get on the scoreboard first to quiet them down. The Capitals are 4-1 during their last five games as road underdogs. The road team is 4-1 during the last five games of the series, with the only loss occurring when the Capitals beat the Bruins at Verizon Center in Game 4.
Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom and Alex Semin have been playing much better than they did during years past. Semin is blocking shots and scoring goals, while Backstrom might be playing the best hockey of his career. Ovechkin's efforts have been through the roof, bodying up with some of the toughest defensemen in the league and finding ways to score on all-star goaltender Tim Thomas.
The key to a Capitals victory and a bid to the Eastern Conference semifinals is discipline and an opportunistic mindset. Washington will need to limit the Bruins' power-play opportunities and make better decisions with the puck in its own zone. The overtime goal scored by Bruins' Tyler Seguin during Game 6, came from a bad Capitals pass out of the defensive zone. The turnovers in the neutral zone are crucial because they make odd-man rushes instantaneously.
The Capitals also need to make sure their line changes come when the puck is dumped into the offensive zone. Too many times this series, the Capitals chip the puck out into the neutral zone for a line change, but the Bruins immediately regain possession while the Caps are changing. If the Capitals limit penalties, get on the board early, make good decisions and change lines well, they could move forward to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the third time in the past four years.
Capitals players to watch: Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Brooks Laich
Possible Unsung Hero: Mike Knuble
Bruins players to watch: Chris Kelly, Brian Rolston, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand
Posted April 25, 2012