The NHL Playoff have arrived with the Bruins and Capitals kicking things off Saturday night in the nation’s capital.
It’s certainly just one of the intriguing matchups on tap as it involves the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Capitals as well as a Bruins team that marched all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Final the following spring, only to be heartbroken by the St. Louis Blues on their home turf.
Both can certainly be described as a Stanley Cup contender. The Bruins sport +425 odds to get back to the Stanley Cup Final and +900 odds to win it all. For the Caps, their Final odds are +650 while they sit with +1400 odds to win the Cup for the second time in four years.
Before we start talking the ultimate prize, let’s bear down and focus on what should be an excellent first-round series.
We’ll dish out the odds, a preview and predict which one of these teams will win the series and in how many games so we can get some serious value going on these NHL playoffs.
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
Bruins vs. Capitals NHL Playoff Series Odds
- Bruins (-161)
- Capitals (+141)
Bruins vs. Capitals NHL Playoff Series Preview
It wasn’t the typical smooth path to the playoffs many thought it would be for the Bruins despite being placed in the league’s most difficult realigned division in the East.
On April 11, the Bruins sat with 48 points, good for 13th in the league overall. Most importantly, however, is that they sat just four points ahead of both the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers within that East Division, albeit with two games in hand. Nonetheless, it was a team that ranked 20th with 2.72 goals per game on the season. They continued to defend well, but offense was a question mark after the dominant top-line trio of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand.
Late that night on the 11th, Bruins general manager went out and traded for Taylor Hall for what was pennies on the dollar considering Hall had scored just two goals this season with the lowly Buffalo Sabres. Since the Hall deal, the Bruins ranked second in the NHL with 25 points in their 17 games and averaged 3.41 goals per game. Hall tallied eight goals and 14 points across 16 games with the Bruins during the regular season, multiplying his goal total from the Sabres four-fold in less than half the games played.
It would seem Hall’s contributions are key to the team’s success. The club now has a second line of Hall, David Krejci and Craig Smith that has provided plenty of production as a unit down the stretch. The team’s top six can now play with anyone while the bottom-six features plenty of Bruins-type hockey players as Sean Kuraly, Nick Ritchie, Charlie Coyle and Chris Wager are bottom-six names that are built for this time of the year, but keep in mind former second-line winger Jake DeBrusk can add scoring punch to that group despite a down 2021 regular season.
Same ole Bruins
While the club’s rejuvenated offense seemingly increases their chances at a return to glory, this Bruins team once again defended extremely well with a new-look group of blueliners.
Of course, Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara were significant departures from the bluelines of year’s past, and were to be replaced by the likes of Jeremy Lauzon and Connor Clifton on a full-time basis while injuries to the group saw a plethora of Bruins defensemen appear in the lineup this season. In fact, 13 different defenders dressed for the B’s this season, but they chugged on as per usual.
The Bruins’ blueline ranked fourth with 2.39 goals against per game with a penalty kill that finished second with an 86% mark and behind only the Golden Knights and their 86.8% figure. It’s no fluke, either, as they also ranked fifth in both scoring chances against/60 and high-danger chances against/60 and third in expected goals against/60 at 5v5 this season, according to Natural Stat Trick. Additionally, their 2.08 actual goals against/60 at 5v5 was above their 1.89 expected mark, so this was indeed one of the game’s elite defenses again this season despite notable turnover on the back end.
Not only did the blueline see plenty of fresh faces this season, the goaltending situation ended up following suit.
Due to injuries to Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak — mostly in the season’s second half — netminders Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman combined for 15 starts. Swayman was particularly dominant in turning in a 1.50 GAA and .945 Sv% in 10 starts, going 7-3-0 while that offense surged down the stretch.
Now, Rask did return down the stretch and played fine before a late stumble with the Rangers in his second-to-last start. That said, while the Bruins’ defense remains stout in front of him, Rask’s numbers slipped some this season (by his standards) as he turned in a .913 Sv% that is well below his .921 career mark and .929 mark from a season ago.
Rask has had postseason success, of course. He’s the owner of a 2.20 GAA and .926 Sv% across 93 postseason appearances for his career. If anything, the additional time off in the shortened, condensed schedule should provide the 34-year-old with plenty of energy for what the club hopes is another deep postseason run.
In an interesting turn, head coach Bruce Cassidy announced on Tuesday that it will be Swayman backing up Rask in the postseason, relegating Halak to third-string duties after he surrendered four goals in his final regular-season start.
“I think he’s earned that,” said Cassidy. Obviously a tough call with Jaro with his experience. He’s just played more down the stretch here, Swayman…. Thought Swayman grabbed the ball and ran with it.”
Despite the new postseason tandem, Rask’s postseason work certainly bodes well for the Bruins chances, especially behind that defense with an offense that has struck gold in the Taylor Hall deal.
The Capitals lost the East Division title on a second tie-breaker (regulation + overtime wins) to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they did so while undergoing a rather tumultuous season.
First, presumed backup and long-time NHLer Henrik Lundqvist announced before the season started he was diagnosed with a heart condition that eventually required open-heart surgery. That thrust Ilya Samsonov into a major 1A role, only he missed time early in the season after falling into the league’s protocol list alongside some of his Russian teammates including Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov.
So, it was Vitek Vanecek’s time to shine (and make his NHL debut) and the 25-year-old rookie performed admirably, starting hot and finishing the season with a solid 2.69 GAA and .908 Sv%. The Capitals’ goaltending situation remains unclear as Samsonov was scratched from the lineup — along with Kuznetsov — for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, according to head coach Peter Laviolette. Certainly a strange season for that duo and we’ll see how it affects their personnel look in Saturday’s Game 1.
Not Skipping a Beat
Despite having some superstar offensive contributors out of their lineup at times throughout the season, this offense did not miss a beat. The Capitals finished the season tied for fourth with 3.36 goals per game on the season while their 24.8% power play clip ranked third.
They do qualify as a team that scored over their heads if you believe the underlying metrics. The power play certainly helped, but a team that ranked fifth in overall offense also ranked 19th in scoring chances/60, 17th in high-danger chances/60 and 19th again in expected goals for/60 at 5v5. Their 2.89 goals/60 at 5v5 this season was well above their 2.15 expected mark while their second-ranked 10.07% 5v5 shooting percentage speaks to the gap between offense and expected offense.
That said, the Bruins weren’t the only team to get an offensive jolt at the deadline as a surprising deal that sent Jakub Vrana to the Red Wings and Anthony Mantha to the Capitals paid immediate dividends for Washington. More of a power forward, Mantha tallied a goal in each of his first four games with Washington, and while he cooled off afterwards, he still recorded a healthy eight points in 14 games with his new club and would appear to be skating with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the team’s top line and top power play unit moving forward.
Metrics aside, everyone expected this Capitals offense and power play unit to be a productive one and while the test is stiff with the defensively-sound Bruins, they’ll remain a dangerous group in this series.
Both teams have proven capable of scoring and boast power plays with elite-level talent on board, but the biggest gap in this series appears to be on the back end between the goaltending and defensive personnel.
Of course we’ll see Chara take on his former club in this series which is one of the best storylines going heading into the postseason. Chara was still serviceable in his new digs, but the Capitals’ defense is seemingly at a disadvantage in this series.
They finished the regular season ranked 17th with 2.88 goals against per game. Their 84% penalty kill certainly helped and ranked fifth in the business, but that’s a bottom-half overall defense. That said, they probably deserved better as they ranked fourth in scoring chances against/60, and seventh in both high-danger chances against/60 and expected goals against/60 at 5v5. Their 2.36 goals against/60 at 5v5 was above their 2.00 expected mark, so they were a bit unfortunate there.
So, why it could appear that Washington is at a disadvantage when it comes to the blueline, the gap may not be as big as we think and the underlying metrics are quite similar, but the Bruins got better goaltending than Washington did. We’ll see if that is the difference in the series.
Bruins vs. Capitals NHL Playoff Series Prediction
This one is a tough one as these teams actually match up quite well, and the numbers are similar. The Capitals were the superior season-long offense until the Hall trade — and his positive shooting-rate regression — took over. The Bruins are the superior defense, but the metrics tell us these groups actually played similar defense in terms of preventing scoring chances at even strength. Both are top-five penalty-killing teams to boot.
The goaltending on the Capitals’ side is the key issue here. If Samsonov is good to go and plays at or close to his potential, the Capitals can upset the Bruins in this series. Vanecek turned in a solid rookie season but does not match up with Rask in the least and has zero games of NHL postseason experience.
All that being said, I can’t back the Bruins at this price. After all, these two teams split the season series, and the Bruins outscored them ever-so-slightly at 26-25. Not to mention the Capitals’ 77 regular-season points out-paced Boston’s 73. Those factors don’t exactly call for the odds to be so heavily skewed towards the Bruins.
At these odds, the value is with the Capitals here. They can score and generally defended quite well. The goaltending scenario is the biggest reason for the odds as they are, but I’ll roll the dice and take the underdogs here at nice value.
Bruins vs. Capitals Exact Series Result Prediction
- Bruins 4-0 (+800)
- Bruins 4-1 (+450)
- Bruins 4-2 (+425)
- Bruins 4-3 (+450)
- Capitals 4-0 (+1400)
- Capitals 4-1 (+800)
- Capitals 4-2 (+575)
- Capitals 4-3 (+475)
It’s tough to say whether or not we’ll see a sweep in these playoffs, but that’s a rarity in today’s NHL. The teams are just too competitive and too close to one another that the tiny gaps in ability don’t call four four-game sweeps these days.
So obviously, I’m looking for a close series here. We also want to consider value, and a 3-2 series going into Game 6 does indeed result in a close series. With plenty of games likely to be decided in overtime throughout these playoffs, a series may not look close at the end, but certainly a bounce or two either way changes quite a bit.
With that in mind, I like the Capitals in this series, and I’ll take them win it in six games.