Tuesday night, the surprisingly upbeat Washington Capitals will travel to Boston to take on the defending Stanley Cup Champions in a best of seven games series.
The seventh seeded Capitals are huge underdogs going into the series. Without a number one goaltender, a true second line center, and a suspect defense, the Capitals don't match up well against the physically intimidating Bruins.
The Capitals' proverbial ace up the sleeve will be their secondary and tertiary scoring while all Bruin eyes will be on captain Alexander Ovechkin.
The following are the players who will be most important to their teams, contributing to their success, and eventually moving on to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
Without a doubt, there is more pressure on Alexander Semin to perform than any other Capital, let alone any player on either team.
Semin will be tasked with a daunting proposal—score regularly without a true second line center. No. 28 will be asked to provide secondary scoring, and provide more offense than anyone else not named Alexander Ovechkin.
It is anyone's guess who will be setting up Semin on his second line. The viable candidates include unofficial team leader Brooks Laich, second year pro Marcus Johansson, or the streaky yet inconsistent Matthieu Perreault.
If Semin fails to produce with any one of these pivots, coach Dale Hunter might decide to take star center Nicklas Backstrom off the first line with Ovechkin and give him to Semin in hopes that production increases. If this plan fails after a one-game test experiment, you can bet it's probably going to be too late for Semin or the Caps.
Tim Thomas' numbers in last years playoffs were:
.940 SV%, 1.98 GAA, and 4 shutouts
Caps fans are hoping for some kind of regression from last year and there is honestly none to be seen. Even if Thomas didn't have a historic regular season like he did last year, which earned him the Vezina Trophy for the NHL's best goaltender, Thomas is still the same man with the same skills and attitude.
After last year's Conn Smythe win as playoffs MVP, the Bruins will live or die with the old goalie, as we should not expect to see young Tuukka Rask unless Boston gets absolutely shelled in a single game.
If Thomas can come anywhere close to the level he played last year, this will be a quick series.
Mike Green used to be the Erik Karlsson of the NHL a few years back. Green was the unquestioned best offensive defenseman in the league as evidenced by his elite scoring touch and ability to set up plays, which would put him on the score sheet seemingly every night.
Since Green was injured for a large portion of the season, fellow Caps' blueliner Dennis Wideman admirably picked up the slack in the goal scoring department, earning his first ever All-Star nomination. Young John Carlson improved his game as well, picking up nine goals and a handful of points.
Even though Green isn't the oldest defenseman on the team, far from it actually, he will be looked to as the number one D Man in Washington, a task that includes playing more minutes than anyone, scoring more points than anyone, and playing better defense than anyone.
If history is any indication of how Mike Green will perform, Caps fans should expect the worst and try to be pleasantly surprised if or when Green plays like he owns the number one spot.
The eventual Selke Trophy winner, Patrice Bergeron, will be tasked with killing most of the Bruins' penalties, provide an aggressive fore check, and score when able.
Bergeron is one of the league's best two way players and will match up against one of the Capitals' top lines. Bergeron is an excellent faceoff man and an exceptional playmaker.
Should he be fortunate enough, Bergeron will most likely not face the Capitals' top defensive pairing of John Carlson and Karl Alzner, instead facing off against weaker defenseman in which he hopes will allow him to set up his team more on offense.
Ovechkin will get his, this much we know.
It's all about Nicklas Backstrom this year.
Backstrom was the Capitals' best player all year before he received a vicious elbow to the head, which resulted in a near-season ending concussion.
Backstrom was a ghost against the Tampa Bay Lightning in last year's playoffs, but came back to the 2011-12 season with a vengeance. Determined to play at his previous 100-point level, Backstrom was always on the score sheet and was playing like a top five center.
Nicklas might be moved to the second line if his teammates cannot score enough goals to keep some pressure off Ovechkin, or if he himself cannot provide enough support to Ovechkin and his soon to be revealed right-wing line mate.
Chara is once again in talks as the league's best defenseman.
Big Z is playing at his usual elite level and is ready to take his experience-laden Bruins back into battle.
The scariest thing for Capitals forwards in this first series will be going into the boards where Chara lurks, if they don't keep their heads up and play smart they will find themselves laid out on the ice by the monster of a man.
The scariest thing for Capitals defenders will be throwing their bodies in front of Chara's slap shot, which currently holds the record for fastest shot in NHL history. Zdeno regularly hits speeds of over 100 miles per hour with ease. Players who might not sacrifice their bodies in the regular season are certainly expected to in the playoffs, where every blocked shot may be the difference between a win and a loss.
Holtby has been charged with answering the call of duty to become Washington's new playoff goalie.
A rookie goalie who has seen limited action in the past two years, Holtby surprisingly has great career numbers but has never seen playoff action.
Due to the injuries of Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, Holtby will be the ultimate difference in whether the Capitals get destroyed by the Bruins or end up holding their own against an opponent that can easily out-muscle them.
Holtby won't need to be good, he will need to be spectacular, somewhere along the lines of being as good as Patrick Roy during his rookie campaign with the Montreal Canadiens where a young Roy captured his first Cup.
Seguin has had a tremendous sophomore year, exceeding any and all expectations that were placed on him despite being a former second overall draft pick who already possessed a championship ring.
Just missing the thirty goal mark in a league starved for top goal scorers, Seguin proved himself an up and coming scorer, and already one of the best play makers on his team. With a league-wide second best +/- rating, Seguin and company were playing exceptional two-way hockey.
With Nathan Horton injured for the playoffs and not expected to return soon, Tyler will have to pick up some of that slack and take his game to a new level, earning him a reputation as a proven playoff performer.