Know your enemy: Key questions for Capitals-Bruins from the Boston perspective

Key questions for Caps-Bruins from the Boston perspective originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals are gearing up for a first-round matchup against the Boston Bruins, their first playoff meeting since 2012.

Washington and Boston have met eight times this season, but how well do Caps fans know the Bruins really?

As we prepare for the first round of the playoffs, I reached out to DJ Bean from NBC Sports Boston for the Boston perspective on some key questions for the series.

1. Heading into the season, defense was seen as a big weakness for Boston, specifically left defense. Yet, Boston ranks fourth in the NHL in goals against per game. How have they found so much success defensively this season?

It’s a combination of a couple of things. They’re always a good possession team — this was the seventh straight year in which they were top five in the league in Corsi For percentage — and it’s hard for teams to score when they don’t have the puck. That, and the kids they threw to the wolves were decent, most notably Jeremy Lauzon. The team still had a ton of injuries on defense and never looked quite set there, but getting Mike Reilly from Ottawa was a godsend. He’s been the surefire top-four guy they’ve needed.

Before the trade deadline, I’d have told you defense (among other things) would sink the Bruins in the playoffs. Now? They might have enough.

2. The Bruins boast one of the top lines in hockey with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, but the big question for Boston has always been scoring depth. Is there enough depth behind the “Perfection Line” to keep up with Washington?

Taylor Hall has been terrific, which means that David Krejci is no longer rotting by himself on the second line. Craig Smith’s come alive, too, which means the Bruins have two really, really good lines.

The million dollar question is what happens beyond that. Charlie Coyle, who’s got a lower-body injury at the moment, had a miserable season. If he can recapture what he brought them in the playoffs two years ago, the Bruins will be in business, but that third line’s been an island of misfit toys all season.

3. For most of his career, the Caps have had Tuukka Rask’s number (4-11-7, .894 save percentage, 3.03 GAA), but he has always been really strong in the playoffs. Can the Caps still get to him like they do in the regular season or will goaltending be as big of an advantage for Boston as it seems on paper?

It’s a great question because something has to give. Rask’s gotten smoked by the Capitals over the years, and the Bruins have been great against Washington’s goalies this season. Either someone’s going to snap out of it, or this is going to be a super high-scoring series.

Rask’s a great playoff goalie, but he’s occasionally been so-so in the first round. Plus, he’s coming off what seems to be a back injury. I’m not as confident in him as I normally would be. There’s a segment of the fanbase who actually want rookie Jeremy Swayman to be the guy, which I’d still call absurd at this point.

4. Caps fans remember Bruce Cassidy from his disastrous tenure in Washington, but he has found success in Boston. What kind of coach has he been for the Bruins and how do you see him approaching this series against his former team?

The Capitals days seem to be a lifetime ago for Cassidy. He essentially started over and worked his way up with the Bruins. I didn’t see him becoming a Jack Adams winner when they made the promotion, but he’s been great. He’s incredibly honest, but when he calls out his guys, it isn’t in an angry, John Tortorella kind of way. He’s just matter-of-fact and I think most people respect that.

5. As much as Zdeno Chara has exceeded expectations in the regular season, he ultimately was brought in for his leadership in the playoffs. Just what can the Caps expect from him now in the postseason and do you think he can still have a significant impact on the series even at the age of 44?

I think he can still impact a series. We always say that he isn’t what he used to be, but let’s remember “what he used to be” meant “nobody’s allowed to score but his guys when he’s on the ice.” He’s gone from that impossible standard to still being someone you want on the ice for large chunks against other team’s scorers. He’ll still frustrate them and tire them out. That signing was a no-brainer.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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