When the National Hockey League announced they were ending the shortened regular-season at the end of May and proceeding with a 24-team tournament, the Boston Bruins were part of a four-team Eastern Conference round-robin tournament. Games against the Philadelphia Flyers (which they lost on Sunday 4-1), Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals are going to decide the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
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Using regular-season rules that apply to 3-on-3 overtime and a shootout to determine a winner, the three games each team play also serve as a tune-up for the playoffs against one of the Qualifying Round winners. When the Bruins and Capitals square off on Aug. 9 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, they will have both played the Flyers and Lightning. They might know where they will be seeded, but for one afternoon, two of the Eastern Conference top teams will battle it out with star power all over the ice.
Boston and Washington played their three games this season in a five-week span before Christmas with the Capitals winning two of the three games. The Capitals won the first meeting in Boston when Jakub Vrana scored in the fifth round of the shootout for a 3-2 win. Washington won another 3-2 game, this time at home in December on the strength of two goals from T.J. Oshie and 30 saves from Braden Holtby.
Heading into the team’s final meeting of the season on Dec. 23, the Bruins had won one of the team’s last 17 meetings. Boston went into the game without the services of captain Zdeno Chara, who was out with a scheduled procedure for a broken jaw he sustained in the Stanley Cup Final in 2019. To make matters worse, the Bruins lost Torey Krug to a lower-body injury in the physical battle.
The Bruins pushed forward on the strength of four first period goals and chased Holtby from the game after just 11 shots on their way to 7-3 win. With the Bruins missing their top defenseman for most of the game, goalie Tuukka Rask saw 42 shots, but the Vezina Trophy finalist made 39 saves.
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Oshie was the only Capital to score more than one goal against the Bruins in three games, while David Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle and Patrice Bergeron each had two against Washington in the three games.
Capitals Star Power
Over the course of the regular season, not too many teams have a top-six forward grouping that can put the puck in the like the Capitals. Their top-six forwards combined for 151 goals in 69 games. Ovechkin shared the Maurice Rocket Richard Award with Pastrnak with 48 goals and collected career goal No. 700 in February against the New Jersey Devils.
Oshie was second in goals with 26 and Vrana had 25. Center Tom Wilson scored 21, while Evgeny Kuznetsov (19) and Nicklas Backstrom (12) round out their explosive top-six forwards.
John Carlson is a Norris Trophy finalist as he anchors the defense and led all defensemen in scoring with 75 points, including 60 assists. Nick Jensen, Radko Gudas, Jonas Siegenthaler and Michael Kemphy join Carlson as a talented and deep unit, but a trade at the deadline in February by general manager Brian MacLellan brought in one of the deadlines most coveted defensemen.
MacLellan was able to acquire Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for two draft picks. The 6-foot-4 and 225-pound Dillon adds a physical presence for the Capitals and deepens their defensive core.
In net, Holtby went 25-14-6 during the season with a 3.11 goals against average (GAA) and a .913 save percentage (SV%).
The Bruins and Capitals have met three times in the postseason, with Washington holding a 2-1 edge. Boston won their only series in 1990 in the Prince of Wales Conference Final with a sweep, outscoring the Capitals 15-6 in the four games.
Eight years later, the Capitals won an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series in six games. After winning Game 2 in double overtime on a goal from former Bruin Joe Juneau, Washington closed out the series at the FleetCenter in Game 6 on another overtime goal, this time from Brian Bellows.
In the 2012 playoffs, the two teams battled through seven games, which included four overtimes, before the Capitals prevailed in Game 7 on another overtime goal in Boston, this from Joel Ward to upset the second-seeded Bruins in the Conference Quarterfinals. Niklas Backstrom won Game 2 in double overtime for Washington, while the Bruins won the other two overtime games.
Since their last playoff matchup, both teams have won the Stanley Cup. In 2011, the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games, while the Capitals got over their playoff hump in 2018 to win the Stanley Cup in five games over the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
Final Tune-up For Both Teams
This will be the final round-robin game for both teams before the playoffs start. The Capitals have frustrated the Bruins in recent years, but this is an opportunity for the Bruins to get more confidence against Holtby and the team, should the teams meet later in the playoffs.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.