NESN Bruins analyst Andy Brickley joined the Dennis & Callahan show Wednesday morning to go in-depth and discuss the Bruins’ upcoming first-round playoff series against the Capitals.
With so many different facets of the game that could come into play against a talented Washington team, Brickley said that one of the Bruins’ primary strengths, their third- and fourth-line productivity, will be tested against the Capitals, who boast a similar strength in that area.
“That’s how the Bruins play when they play their best and that is their expectation that that’s the way they’re going to play this year,” Brickley said. “I think that the fact that Washington may have gotten the better or was certainly equal to the Bruins in that area during the season series is why I’m kind of highlighting it.
“The Bruins’ third and fourth lines, because they were so good last year, are going to have to do it again. It’s good that they’re playing a team in the first round that will make them be very aware that they have to get the complete contribution from all 12 forwards.”
When asked to pick out a particular X-factor in the series, Brickley turned his attention to Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, someone he said can have a big impact on this series despite missing significant regular-season action.
“He missed three months with a concussion, came back at the end of the year, played four games, seemed to get better each game,” Brickley said. “But keep in mind that playoff hockey — the speed, the physical play, the way you win as you win in the dirty areas ‘ and because everything is ramped up a lot, when you’re coming off a head injury and you miss that kind of time, I’m not so sure what they’re going to get from him because the Bruins are such a heavy team and I think that would be a concern for Washington.”
After his masterful performance throughout the 2011 playoffs that helped guide the Bruins to the Stanley Cup , expectations are high for Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas . Brickey said that while Thomas will step up his game for the playoffs, he shouldn’t be expected to replicate his showing from last season.
“That would be awfully high expectations,” Brickley said. “It was magical and record-setting. I would expect him to be the goaltender that makes all the saves you expect him to make and then some because when he’s on top of his game, that’s the way he plays.
“Sometimes it looks a little funny, a little awkward, but it’s all about stopping the puck. To think that he could play to the level he played in the postseason last year, I think that would be unrealistic. The expectation will be elite goaltender that gives you a chance to win every game.”
When asked for a prediction, Brickley said that he could see the series going in a variety of ways, but that for now, he’ll take the Bruins in six games.
“I like them in six,” Brickley said. “I think the Caps have the ability to win a couple of games in this series. I don’t think it goes seven, it could end in five, but I’ll be conservative and say it ends in six. I think it’s a good matchup for Boston.”
Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page .
On whether Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin  is still a superstar: “Yes, he is. The fact that he scored 11 or 12 goals in the final month and the final five weeks of the regular season when they were making a playoff push tells you he can take his game to the necessary level that a superstar does. If you relax at all and you give him too much time and space, he will hurt you. He’s still a dynamic offensive force. And he loves the playoffs, his playoff numbers are great. If you don’t pay attention to this guy and if you don’t make him take the puck when he has it to areas he doesn’t want to go, then you’re going to pay a price.”
On the keys to beating the Capitals: “In no particular order, I would say protect the house, which means you take away the middle of the ice, take away your own defensive zone, keep everything to the perimeter, let your goaltender know where the shots are coming from and make sure he gets a good look at it. Number two, I would say again take away the middle of the ice, meaning the neutral zone. A lot of teams in the NHL , and the Caps are no different, they really try to counterattack and turn defense into offense with their speed, with their skill guys and don’t allow Ovechkin and [Alexander] Semin and Backstrom be the players they want to be because a lot of that starts with their speed and puck control. And it would be take the body every time it’s there. Don’t ever turn down an opportunity to make contact because if you expect this series to go five, six or seven, it’s to your advantage if you’re the Boston Bruins  to wear them down.”
On how big a role luck plays in the playoffs: “There’s a lot of luck in every game of every series, especially the ones that go seven. There’s luck involved. To put a percentage on it, I couldn’t tell you. The good teams like to say they make their own luck and that when they get back luck they play through it. Three Game 7s on your way to the Stanley Cup ? There’s plenty of luck involved.”