NHL Playoffs 2012: 5 Reasons the Capitals Will Defeat the Bruins

Rob KirkCorrespondent IIApril 20, 2012

NHL Playoffs 2012: 5 Reasons the Capitals Will Defeat the Bruins

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    The Washington Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins last night 2-1 in a game that they absolutely needed to win.

    Boston seemed to sit back on its heels for large parts of the game while the Capitals attacked. The first period saw the teams exchange goals, but the Bruins dominated in shots and puck possession. The plucky Caps had plenty of chances themselves, but often found Bruins blocking their path to the goal. Braden Holtby was a difference-maker in the first as he turned away 13 of 14 shots.

    The second was more evenly matched in shots as the Capitals put Tim Thomas to the test. They scored their second power-play goal of the series on a top-shelf laser from Alex Semin. The Capitals seemed to get the better of the chances in the second as many of Boston's shots came from the perimeter.

    The third period was all Boston as the Bruins played desperately and threw a ton of rubber at Holtby. The Bruins outshot the Caps 13-3 and had Washington on the ropes with sustained pressure. The period ended without a change in the score, with time expiring with the puck appropriately in Holtby's glove.

    The series heads back to Boston with the next win being the most important.

    The defending Cup champions have sputtered out of the gate. Bailed out in overtime for a Game 2 win and Chara's third-period winner in Game 3 hardly have Beantown bubbling over with confidence.

    Conversely, the Capitals have yet to play a complete game and are still tied in the series. They will be getting their second-best player back from a one-game suspension for Game 5. Oh by the way, the rookie they have in goal has been as good and often better than Boston's playoff MVP from last year.

    There is no reason to believe that this series won't go seven games.

    All four games have been decided by one goal, and there seems to be no consistent momentum in any direction. With a win home and away for each, the best predictor would probably be a coin flip.

    I think a long series favors the Capitals. Their season was a borderline disaster, salvaged by a last-ditch push just to qualify. They are a dangerous team that isn't just happy to be there. Here are five reasons the Capitals will eliminate last season's Stanley Cup champions.

Expectations/Pressure

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    Ask every Stanley Cup champion since 1999 how difficult it is to repeat as champion.

    The NHL's playoff tournament is the most grueling and intense of all the major sports. It is often a battle of attrition and conditioning as much as it is skill. Wearing the crown as reigning champion also means that you get the best effort every night from your opponent trying to knock you out of the playoffs.

    The Bruins had a solid season defending their title, finishing second in the Eastern Conference. As the No. 2 seed they are guaranteed home ice against all comers but one. They have the reigning Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) in goal and perennial Norris Trophy contender Zdeno Chara protecting him.

     

    Winning the Stanley Cup only whets the appetite for Boston's faithful.

     

    The fans have now been to the mountain top and expect this year's edition to take them back to the promised land. Those expectations will weigh heavily on the Bruins. No one will ever admit it, but the longer this series goes, the greater the pressure on Boston. They are the higher seed, the defending champs. They are supposed to win.

     

    The Capitals, as mentioned in the first slide, have had a forgettable season. They replaced a very successful coach after starting poorly. They were missing their best center and defenseman for over half of the season.

     

    They entered the playoffs with their third-string goalie, a veteran of exactly 21 NHL starts. They are playing with nothing to lose. Everyone expects a first-round exit. Now that they are actually healthy, they want to prove everyone wrong.

     

    Advantage: Capitals

Braden Holtby

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    As we all know by now, Braden Holtby is an unproven rookie. Going into this season, he wasn't the Capital's first or second choice to guard the nets.

    Now in the biggest games of his life, he may be the best goalie in the NHL.

    His 1.60 goals against and .953 save percentage are beyond anyone's wildest expectations. While the Caps defense has rallied around the young Holtby, it will need to get more goals to reward his effort with a series win.

    A hot playoff goalie can get into another teams' head, and Holtby is starting to do just that.

    The Bruins have peppered the Capitals net and have little to show for it. As the series goes on, the Bruins will be gripping their sticks a little tighter as they try to solve Holtby. If he can shut the door in Game 5, Holtby can legally petition for ownership of the Bruins' souls.

    Advantage: Capitals

    Legal disclaimer: Braden Holtby may NOT petition for ownership of anyone's soul. This is only the author's opinion.

Nick Backstrom

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    Little Nicky Backstrom has always been regarded as the pretty Swede with the fancy passes that make Alex Ovechkin's goals look nice. His game was finesse and skill, and he spent 40 games recovering from a tough head shot earlier in the year.

    Then he started mixing it up with All-World tough guy Milan Lucic. Of all people in the world, why would you try to piss off Lucic?!?! He has a who's who list of KO victims on YouTube and is one of the baddest dudes in the league.

    Perhaps like fellow concussee Sidney Crosby, Backstrom's scrambled brain gave him a tough-guy complex? Add a cheap-shot crosscheck at the end of Game 3, and Backstrom was suspended for Game 4.

    Capitals coach Dale Hunter has been griping to anyone who will listen that the Bruins have been targeting Backstrom's dome in all series. Nick seems to think that he can take care of himself and hasn't backed down from any challenge.

    The good news and bad news situation is this: Great that Backstrom feels tough enough to stand up to Lucic, but get back to doing what you do best.

    His return in Game 5 will add some needed offense to Washington. With goals being a priceless commodity in the series so far, Backstrom's return will be a huge spark. He'll take some pressure off of Ovechkin and Semin, and help in the faceoff circle too.

    Advantage: Capitals

    Sidenote: It's always fantastic to hear Dale Hunter complain about "dirty" play.

The Bears Have Been Poked

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    The Caps and Bruins have gone toe to toe through four games and neither team has blinked so far.

    The Capitals have agitated and aggravated the Bruins stars like Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic. While the Caps don't have the heavy fists to match the two Bruin toughies, they have managed to get under Boston's skin by simply standing up to the Boston bullies.

    The Bruins have been doing all the things they needed to do to take command of this series, but have only been able to hold serve on home ice. Four of Boston's offensive leaders—Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, David Krejci and Milan Lucic—have combined for one point and 14 penalty minutes.

    To say they are frustrated is an understatement.

    The Bruins will answer the bell in Game 5 with pressure like the Caps haven't seen. Their fans will be screaming like it's the Cup Final. However, if the Capitals can limit the damage or even hold the Bruins at bay, that crowd could turn.

    Advantage: Capitals

Alexander Ovechkin

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    In case anyone forgot, one of the most electrifying and dynamic players in the league still plays for the Capitals. He hasn't dominated the headlines this year like he usually has, but Ovechkin can still bring it. He scored 38 goals this year, which is a down year for him but a career year for others.

    Ovechkin has been active in the playoffs so far but has yet to really put his stamp on a game. Chara has been stalking him through four games and limited him to one goal and three assists through Game 4. Ovechkin has been leading the series in hits, though, with 24, but was also playing the role of facilitator last night with Nicklas Backstrom out. 

    With the series down to a best-of-three, now is the time for Ovechkin to step up and start building on an unimpressive career playoff resume.

    He gets his pal Backstrom back for Game 5, which will help him get some more space and some sweet one-timer passes. As Alex goes, so go the Caps, and they can ride the Great 8 into Round 2.

    Advantage: Capitals

    Prediction: Capitals in six...or seven