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Bruins vs Capitals: 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview

Boston's David Pastrnak joins Kathryn Tappen to discuss goal celebrations, his intrigue with the song "Barbie Girl" and his favorite type of pasta.

It seemed inevitable the Bruins and Capitals would meet up in the postseason.

Both squads have a recent history of postseason success, with Washington taking the 2018 Stanley Cup and Boston appearing in the 2019 rendition.

They have a playoff history; historically, the Capitals have the Bruins number, dating back to the dramatic Game 7 First Round winner from Washington’s Joel Ward in 2012.

Add a little spice this year, though. Zdeno Chara, the Bruins long time captain, signed with the Capitals in the offseason after the B’s told him he would see a reduced role if he stayed.

His revenge tour or their revenge tour or however you want to slice it, it’s impossible to deny there’s something extra this time around.

CAPITALS VS. BRUINS - series livestream link

Saturday, May 15: Bruins at Capitals, 7:15 p.m. ET (NBC)
Monday, May 17: Bruins at Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Wednesday, May 19: Capitals at Bruins, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Friday, May 21: Capitals at Bruins, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
*Sunday, May 23: Bruins at Capitals TBD
*Tuesday, May 25: Capitals at Bruins TBD
*Thursday, May 27: Bruins at Capitals TBD

Bruins - Capitals Storylines

Chara takes on the Bruins

This is the obvious one. The 12-year captain of the Bruins, Boston let him walk in the offseason in order to play their younger defensemen. Since then, they had to go trade for Mike Reilly and Jakub Zboril barely plays, so make of it what you will.

Regardless of what worked out or didn’t, the narrative is through the roof. Chara, playing for the league minimum with the Capitals, can eliminate his former team. On the flip side, the Bruins can try to dispel the idea they should have retained the 43-year-old defensemen.

Either way, the emotion is going to palpable, and probably one of the more intriguing narratives of the first round overall.

Anthony Mantha’s playoff debut and Caps health

With four goals and four assists since joining the Capitals at the trade deadline, Mantha has been a solid addition to an already physical, talented offense. He had never played in the postseason before in his six-year career with the Red Wings.

Given the Capitals health concerns -- more on that later -- Mantha might have an even larger role in the playoffs.

Washington isn’t limping into the playoffs per se, but it isn’t effortlessly gliding, either. All of Alex Ovechkin (lower body), T.J. Oshie (lower body), John Carlson (lower body), and Nicklas Backstrom (lower body) have been missing for parts of the last two weeks. As of now, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov remain on the COVID-19 protocol list, too.

The Bruins aren’t totally unscathed, with Ondrej Kase not ready to play yet and Charlie Coyle out of the lineup, but the Capitals are more banged up.

Series physicality

Everyone knows the Capitals can bang around. The Bruins are no stranger to a physical brand of hockey, either, especially when they have their full lineup.

The Tom Wilson factor is sure to be an unavoidable Thing, and mix in the Bruins have guys who will play with an edge as well -- Kevan Miller, Brad Marchand, Trent Frederic, etc -- and there’s a recipe for some after-the-whistle scrums.

“If you look back at the start of the year, you probably could have guessed it was going to play out this way,” Marchand said to reporters earlier this week. “It adds another storyline to the game and to the series. They’re obviously a very dominant team. Big, physical. That’s obviously where they gain a lot of emotion and energy from that. They have a lot of guys that play that way. They’re built to be heavy and be a playoff team. They’re built for the playoffs.”

Wilson’s hit on Brandon Carlo hospitalized him earlier this season and he had a lengthy recovery from concussion effects. That’s sure to be a narrative to keep an eye on as well.

Special teams

Washington’s power play has found success at a 30% clip against the Bruins this season. In a series expected to be filled with physical play, special teams might have even more of a factor.

The Bruins 85.9% penalty kill is second in the league but clearly hasn’t matched up that well against the Capitals. Washington is a frustrating team to play against and emotions will certainly run high. It’ll be up to the Bruins to stay disciplined and avoid out-frustrating themselves into being eliminated early.

One big question for Washington: Does goaltending hold up?

When the Capitals were the Bruins’ Big Bad, Braden Holtby was shutting them down every chance they had. He seemed unbeatable for Boston.

Holtby is now in Vancouver and the Capitals have had trouble nailing down the goalie position this year. Vitek Vanecek has been the primary starter, with Ilya Samsonov behind him. Vanecek finished with a .908 save percentage and 2.69 goals against, and has no postseason experience.

The rookie has held his own, but this is a season where it was widely speculated the Caps might have looked to upgrade at the trade deadline. They stuck with him, though, and that counts for something. We’ll see if it pays off.

Consider Vanecek and Samsonov’s goals saved above expected rates of -5.09 and -9.41 and that’s not overly confidence-inducing.

One big question for Boston: What does playoff Taylor Hall look like?

Taylor Hall has looked like a player reborn since joining the Bruins -- that’ll happen when you can escape the worst team in the league. He’s played like the elite player he was projected to be when he was the top overall pick in 2011.

Hall doesn’t have much playoff experience, being mired in Edmonton and New Jersey and Arizona before this season. He played in two postseasons with the Devils and Coyotes where he had two goals and four assists for New Jersey, and last season had two goals and four assists with Arizona in the bubble.

It’s fair to say this Bruins team is projected to make a deeper run than either of those teams, or at least have a higher ceiling. He’s been good in the playoffs, but how he does with the Bruins in particular in the postseason could be career-defining.

Prediction: Bruins in 6

These aren’t the same Capitals who have given the Bruins fits over the years. The goaltending is considerably weaker, for one. The Bruins have had new life since the trade deadline behind Hall and Reilly. They’re playing like a legitimate contender, even without home ice.

It’ll be interesting what kind of a factor home ice does play for all the series. There aren’t many fans in the buildings with restrictions but it’s the first time anyone has had a crowd for a while to feed off of. So, who knows.

The Bruins energy regardless has been unmatched for about a month now. Can Washington take the first two games and put the pressure on them to create that energy in a deficit? That will be the key.


Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.