Thanks to a sequence of unlikely events, the Boston Bruins will take on the Washington Capitals in an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. It took consecutive losses by Ottawa in regulation (plus consecutive wins by the Caps, coupled with a victory by the Panthers) to push Washington into the seventh seed.
It’s certainly an exciting matchup, pitting the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins versus the formerly-favorite Capitals. Each club has had a roller-coaster ride in 2011-12, with enough highs and lows to fill several seasons. Their narratives make for excellent drama: Will the Black and Gold become the first team to repeat as champions in well over a decade? Will the Capitals use their underdog status to build momentum and finally chase down that championship that seemed like such an (eventual) inevitability just a few years ago?
Bruins: 49-29-4, (102 points), Northeast Division Champion, Second in Eastern Conference
Capitals: 42-32-8, (92 points), Seventh in Eastern Conference
Capitals’ Leading Scorers: Alex Ovechkin (38-27-65); Alex Semin (21-33-54); Marcus Johansson (14-32-46); Dennis Wideman (11-35-46); Nick Backstrom (14-30-44)
Washington Goaltenders: Tomas Vokoun (25-17-2, 2.51, .917) injured; Michal Neuvirth (13-13-5, 2.82, .903) injured; Braden Holtby (4-2-1, 2.49, .922)
Boston: (Forwards) Lucic-Krejci-Peverley, Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin, Pouliot-Kelly-Rolston, Paille-Campbell-Thornton, Caron; (Defense) Chara-Seidenberg, Ference-Boychuk, Zanon-McQuaid, Corvo, Mottau; (Goaltenders) Thomas, Rask, Khudobin.
Washington: (Forwards) Ovechkin-Laich-Brouwer, Chimera-Backstrom-Semin, Aucoin-Johansson-Ward, Hendricks-Beagle-Perreault, Knuble; (Defense) Alzner-Carlson, Hamrlik-Green, Wideman-Orlov, Schultz; (Goaltenders) Neuvirth, Holtby
Over the next week, we’ll examine the first-round matchup between the Bruins and Capitals – starting today with part one, outlining the nearly four decades of shared history between the organizations:
This is the third postseason meeting between the Bruins and Capitals. In 1990, Boston swept Washington out of the Wales Conference Finals and eight years later in 1998, the Capitals beat the Bruins in six games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Interestingly, each team was thoroughly beaten in the Stanley Cup Finals in those seasons – the Capitals were swept by the defending-champion Wings in ’98 and in ’90, the B’s lost to Edmonton in five games.
The Bruins hold a significant edge in the series between the two clubs: 79-43-27. Much of that advantage is owed to the Bruins’ impeccable start against the expansion Capitals in the mid-to-late 70s. In fact, the Bruins won the nineteen of their first twenty-four meetings with Washington and remained undefeated by the Caps until their first contest of the 1980s. The Capitals did not win a season-series against the Bruins until the 1982-83 season – their ninth year of existence.
The ’82-’83 season marked a turnaround in the Caps’ fortunes against the Black and Gold – through the rest of the 1980s, they took points in sixteen of twenty-three meetings including thirteen victories against the B’s. It is no coincidence that this coincided with Washington’s first trips to the postseason with greats like Mike Gartner, Dale Hunter, Scott Stevens and Larry Murphy donning the red, white and blue.
In the early nineties, the Bruins – then one of the best teams in the east and led by Hall of Famers Ray Bourque and Cam Neely took the series back, including the aforementioned Wales Final sweep. Neely had five goals and four assists in the four games as the B’s charged past the Caps into their second (unsuccessful) meeting with the Oilers in three years.
The late 90s saw a changing of the guard in Boston. At the 1997 trade deadline in the biggest of a dozen or so deals between the clubs; the Bruins sent Adam Oates, Bill Ranford and Rich Tocchet to the Caps for future captain Jason Allison, Jim ‘Vezina’ Carey and Anson Carter plus two draft picks. In ’98, thanks in part to the acquisition of Oates (and previous ex-Bruin acquisition Joe Juneau) Washington defeated the Bruins on their way to the franchise’s only Cup Final. Oates had three goals and eight points, including an assist on Juneau’s game-three OT goal.
The early 2000s saw neither franchise escape the first round of the playoffs – or exert dominance over the other (though it produced one of the best fights in recent memory between Stephen Peat and P.J. Stock). Coming out of the lockout, both Boston and Washington missed the postseason in ’06 and ’07 but soon establishing themselves as major contenders towards the end of the millennium’s first decade and winning multiple division titles. However, neither has consistently outplayed the other season-to-season and the Bruins hold a slim two-point advantage since the NHL’s lost year: They’ve put up 38 points in 25 games compared with the Caps’ 33 in the same span.
Despite being conference rivals since the Caps’ creation, there have been precious few times where this rivalry has turned ‘hot’; primarily stemming from the relative dearth of postseason meetings between the organizations. Also, the fanbases’ concern with more intense historical and geographical rivalries has kept the temperature ‘lukewarm’ between the franchises. Despite being a relatively amicable matchup for much of its existence (though not in its entirety), that civility stands to end next week when Boston and Washington hook up for the first time in more than a decade in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On Monday, we’ll examine how the Capitals and Bruins match-up at even strength in Part II.
On Thursday, we’ll examine the keys to the series and conclude with a prediction in Part V.