|Experience proves irrelevant for Bruins in first round of playoffs||04.26.12 at 2:14 am ET|
In the days leading up to the decisive Game 7 between the Bruins and Capitals, there was a plethora of talk about experience — mainly that the Bruins had it and were thus the favorites while the Capitals did not.
A quick look at the history books reflects that attitude. The Capitals were 1-3 in Game 7s since 2008 while the Bruins were 3-3, and the Bruins won all three of those Game 7s last season en route to their Stanley Cup championship. According to the history books, the Bruins had a better idea of how to win Game 7 than the Capitals did.
But even a cursory glance at the Bruins’ supposed experience revealed how much the Bruins were lacking in that area. In 2011, Nathan Horton had two of the Game 7 game-winning goals, and Patrice Bergeron had one. In 2012, Horton was not in the lineup, as he missed the playoffs with a concussion. Bergeron was limited in Game 7 by an undisclosed injury that prevented him from taking faceoffs and slowed him somewhat from the relatively healthy player he was in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
In the end, long-term experience did not benefit the Bruins, as they bowed out of the playoffs with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals. Instead, it was more short-term experience, the experience gained from the other six games of the series and the games leading up to the playoffs, that provided a more accurate view of how Game 7 would go.
Throughout the series, the Capitals consistently beat the Bruins in blocked shots and faceoffs, small details that often reflect the strength of a team’s focus and desire. The Bruins outshot the Capitals, but the quality of each team’s scoring chances remained similar. Boston’s key players like David Krejci and Milan Lucic continued to be quiet while the load fell to players like Andrew Ference, who was 12th on the team in scoring during the regular season and the second-leading scorer in the postseason.
‘At the end of the day when you look at your team, your team wasn’t playing its best hockey in this series,’ Bruins coach Claude Julien said. ‘Before this day started, you just hoped that you would get through this Game 7 and pick some momentum up as you moved forward in the playoffs.’
The Capitals already had their momentum before the playoffs. Washington did not clinch a playoff spot until the penultimate game of the season, and it had to fight hard for every victory. The Capitals went 13-9 in their last 22 games of the regular season, and eight of those 22 games were decided in overtime or by a shootout while 16 of the 22 games were decided by two goals or less.
In contrast, the Bruins went 12-10 in their last 22 games. Four of those games were decided in overtime or by a shootout, equaling the total of overtime games in the first round series of the playoffs.
‘We’ve felt like it was playoff hockey for the last 30 games to make sure we get in the playoffs,’ Capitals forward Mike Knuble said. ‘It wasn’t like we had to throw on a switch and start playing again in the playoffs, start playing a different way.’
The Bruins did have to start playing differently in the playoffs. Like many teams, the Bruins rested key and injured players after clinching a berth in order to be fresh for the postseason.
The epitome of inexperience in the series was Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, and he also proved that a lengthier resume does not always lead to success. With seven postseason starts, Holtby equaled the amount of starts he made during the season for the Capitals. Although the Bruins did not necessarily test him thoroughly, he still earned a .940 save percentage in the postseason, which was better than the very experienced Tim Thomas‘s .923 save percentage.
‘I was saying before we even came into the playoffs that it was good for this team to have a race to get into the playoffs,’ Holtby said. ‘It really made us buckle down and not take things for granted, and that was a big thing.’
Now, perhaps because of that experience gained in the race to make the playoffs, it is the Capitals, not the Bruins, who have kept alive their hopes of winning the Stanley Cup.
|A closer look at Bruins’ recent Game 7 history||04.24.12 at 9:14 pm ET|
Since the 2007-08 season, the Bruins have played six Game 7s, and until last season, they had lost all of them. In the 2011 playoffs, however, the Bruins won three Game 7s en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Two of those wins were by one goal, one of which was an overtime winner.
Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand lead the Bruins in scoring in those Game 7s with four points each. Lucic has scored three goals and recorded an assist in six Game 7s since 2008 while Marchand, in just three career Game 7s, has two goals and two assists. Both goals and one assist came in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals against Vancouver, which the Bruins won, 4-0. Nathan Horton has two Game 7 goals, both of which were game-winners. He leads the Bruins in game-winning Game 7 goals since 2008, but is not playing in the playoffs this year because of a concussion.
Tim Thomas played in five of the six Game 7s, and he owns a 3-2 record with a .935 save percentage in Game 7. Thomas engineered the Bruins to two of their three Game 7 wins last season, pitching a shutout in the Eastern Conference finals and the Stanley Cup finals.
Here’s a further breakdown of how the Bruins have fared in Game 7 since 2008:
|Capitals lineup changes bring familiar faces vs. Bruins||04.19.12 at 1:38 pm ET|
WASHINGTON — Nicklas Backstrom will be out of the lineup for Game 4 after being suspended by the league for cross-checking Rich Peverley in the face. The Bruins know that, and they also know the guy jumping into the lineup in his place.
Former Bruin Mike Knuble, who had the first of his two career 30-goal seasons while playing for Boston in 2002-03, will enter the Capitals’ lineup Thursday skating on the Washington’s fourth line.
Knuble, 39, finally saw his production and playing time fall off this past season with the Caps. After totaling at least 40 points in eight straight seasons (with at least 53 in five of them), Knuble had just 18 points and a minus-15 rating in 72 games this season. He’d also scored 20 goals or more in his past eight seasons before scoring just six during this past regular season.
Based on Washington’s morning skate Thursday, Knuble will play on a line with Keith Aucoin and Joel Ward.
Knuble’s presence in place of Backstrom isn’t the only lineup change anticipated for the Capitals. Defenseman John Erskine has skated on Washington’s third pairing with Dennis Wideman in place of Jeff Schultz for the last two days, suggesting the 6-foot-4, 224-pounder should be in the lineup for the first time since Feb. 12.
The Bruins — and Milan Lucic in particular –also know Erskine well, as Lucic has fought Erskine twice in his career. Erskine pummeled Lucic on Jan. 3, 2008, which was Lucic’s ninth NHL fight. The two had a much more evenly matched bout last season.
‘It brings some toughness,” Capitals defenseman Mike Green said of having Erskine in the lineup. “You’ve seen him play. What you see is what you get. He brings a sense of humbleness to the other team. And that’s what we need.’
All in the all, the changes to Washington’s lineup means the Capitals will ice a grittier team Thursday night at the Verizon Center. Knuble obviously brings the wisdom of years, while Erskine brings a little more sandpaper. The Caps could use that vs. a very physical Bruins team, and if the series is to see its first fight Thursday, Erskine could be a likely participant.
|Milan Lucic questions Karl Alzner’s toughness after crybaby gesture||04.16.12 at 11:21 pm ET|
WASHINGTON — Milan Lucic has been called a lot of things before, but Monday brought an accusation with which he feels unfamiliar.
With the Bruins on the power play late in the third period of Game 3 against the Capitals, Lucic was cross-checked by Washington defenseman Dennis Wideman. That led to Lucic scrapping with forward Matt Hendricks before defenseman Karl Alzner jumped in to take on Lucic. After the scrum was broken up by officials, Alzner made a crying gesture at Lucic.
“Well, there’s a lot of [proof] on my side to show that I’m not a crybaby,” Lucic said after the game. “That’s a lot coming from a guy I think who’s got two roughing penalties in three years, so there you go.
Asked whether he felt Alzner was the third man in, an offense that is punishable by a game misconduct, Lucic grinned and chose his words carefully before answering.
|Now healthy, Milan Lucic has to step up this postseason with Nathan Horton out||04.11.12 at 2:13 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — It became official Wednesday that David Krejci and Milan Lucic will not play with Nathan Horton this postseason, but could the Bruins’ first (depending on who you ask) line be even better than it was a season ago?
It’s a tough act to follow, to be certain. Krejci led all postseason players with 12 goals and 23 points, while Horton’s eight goals tied for third on the team.
The line will obviously be different in that Rich Peverley will be skating in Horton’s place as he did in Games 3-7 of the Cup finals, but the biggest difference should be Lucic.
After leading the team with 30 goals in the regular season last year, Lucic struggled through a sinus infection and, later, a broken toe. He finished the playoffs with 12 points (five goals, seven assists), which tied for eighth on the team. The Bruins won the Cup, and he assisted two of Horton’s overtime goals against the Canadiens (including the series-clinching Game 7 tally), but Lucic didn’t look right. People wondered whether he was playing through pain.
As it turned out, he was. He’d had the sinus infection throughout the postseason, and he had his big toe shattered by a Tyler Seguin slap shot in practice between Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay.
Now, Lucic is healthy, and he’s ready to not only produce more offensively, but help in the other areas where Horton will be missed. When Horton is on that line, it’s a trio that features two big power forwards, making it a very physical and tough group to deal with. Peverley adds speed, but the extra bruising play will have to be provided by Lucic.
“I think I definitely have to play physical no matter what, but [Horton] definitely makes it easier, I’m not going to lie, because he is a big body and he’s got such great speed and we all know about his scoring touch,” Lucic said. “For myself, I feel like I’ve been playing pretty well the last 10 games, and using my body well all season long and I’ve been skating well. Being physical is a big part of my game, and I have to bring that in the playoffs.”
There’s no positive way of spinning of the loss of Horton, but Lucic can recognize that the situation heading into the postseason will be easier than it was the last time the B’s last Horton. Krejci had centered Lucic and Horton for the vast majority of the season, and the trio had built up a pretty strong rapport.
One Aaron Rome hit later, Krejci and Lucic found themselves with a new linemate while still four victories away from the Stanley Cup. There was no time for adjustment then, but they now have experience with Peverley based on the Cup finals and recent weeks.
“Yeah it does, definitely,” Lucic said when asked whether the familiarity with Peverley makes it easier this time around. “You go from playing a whole year with the exact same two guys, and then the last four games, Peverley jumps in the mix. This time, we’ve definitely played a lot more games together, and in these last couple of days of practice have gotten the feel of each other a lot more having practiced with each other. We’re excited for this series to get going, and we’re excited to get back into playoff mode. We want to be a big part of our team moving forward and having success.”
Peverley returned from a knee injury on March 25 and had four points (two goals, two assists), over the final eight games of the regular season. He brings a different skill set with a speedier game, but he showed he was capable of performing in the playoffs last season by matching Lucic’s 12 points despite playing most of the playoffs on the third line.
Ultimately, the Bruins are better with Nathan Horton without him, but the Krejci line should still be poised for success without him. Peverley had four points in five games in place of Horton last June, and Krejci has been known to elevate his game in the playoffs. At the end of the day, though, don’t be surprised if Lucic ends up being the real difference on that line this year. He wasn’t healthy enough to be a consistent force in the playoffs like Horton was a season ago, but there are plenty of reasons to believe he could be this time around.
It was on April 28 that year when Hunter laid out Pierre Turgeon, after Turgeon had just scored the clinching goal for the Islanders late in the third period of the decisive Game 6 of their opening playoff round against Hunter’s Capitals.
Hunter was understandably ticked. But he inexplicably checked Turgeon from behind and into the side boards, separating his shoulder and knocking him out of the next round against the defending champion Penguins.
Hunter received a then-record 21 game suspension for the hit. Turgeon returned for the semi-finals against the eventual champion Canadiens after missing seven games.
Fast forward 19 years and Hunter is now coaching the Capitals in the first-round series against the defending champion Bruins. The Capitals – who finished with the best record in the NHL two seasons ago – were 42-32-8 but had to struggle to get into the playoffs this season in the final week, finishing as the No. 7 seed. That’s quite a change for a team that fired Bruce Boudreau early on this year because they were 12-9-1 and underachieving with names like Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.
“You can say the Capitals have probably underachieved a bit this year,” Lucic said of the Capitals, who actually won the season series against the Bruins this year, 3-1. “They have a lot of great players over there that can definitely do some damage. They’ve had some success against us this year. Season success and playoff success are two different things, which we’ve found out in the past. We know that they’re a great team and have a lot of great weapons and a lot of great players who can step up and be an impact in this series and I think that’s what’s going to make this a real challenging and hard-fought series for us.”
Hunter instilled a new dedication to physical play and no doubt realizes his finesse-laiden Capitals need to channel at least some of his toughness against the new Big Bad Bruins in order to have a chance.
“Especially playing under Dale Hunter, I’m sure they’re going to be real physical,” Lucic said. “They have some forwards that definitely will get in there and get dirty. Even a guy like Ovechkin is not afraid of the physical play and likes to use his body. It’s a way that they have success. For us, we have to do whatever we can to be physical and I think that’s what’s going to make it even a better series because both teams are going to go after each other.
“Part of our identity and part of our success is being physical, regardless of who we play so we have a game plan and we have a type of way we’re going to play and playing physical is one of the ways. We’re going to do everything we can to establish a forecheck and finish our checks and it’s important for us to do that.”
Lucic insisted the Bruins aren’t about to take the Capitals lightly and certainly place no significance on their No. 7 position in the conference.
“I think you definitely learn a lot,” Lucic said. “You can take from what you’ve done in the past and kind of use that experience, hopefully to your advantage. One thing that we did [this season] was that we never took anyone or any opponent for granted. Just because we’re second and they’re seventh doesn’t mean a thing right now. What happened last year is last year. This is a new year, new playoff. Everyone starts off at 0-0. It’s important for us to have a good start, come out strong and hopefully have a good game in Game 1.”
|Bruins know Cup defense is all about them, not the opponent||04.07.12 at 8:30 pm ET|
Through all the number crunching and scenario possibilities Saturday afternoon, the Bruins knew one thing – it doesn’t matter who they’re playing, they are focused on themselves.
And they like what they’re seeing in the mirror right now.
“Well it helps, it definitely helps,” Milan Lucic said of Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win, giving them four wins in their final five games. “Obviously, there was a bit of a worry I guess when we couldn’t even put two wins together. We were winning one, losing one. Winning one, losing two, winning one. So, you know the fact that we were able to kind of regroup and get things going in is definitely more of a confident feeling and we’re looking forward to the challenge that’s coming up ahead.
“It doesn’t matter at all,” Lucic said when asked if he was planning to pay close attention to Saturday’s night games to see if they’re playing Washington or Ottawa.
“There’s a good saying, ‘In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.’ So, you know, it doesn’t matter who you play or who’s on the other side. It’s about who’s in this room and how we’re going to play so we’re committed to that, and that’s our main focus right now.”
The Bruins are happy with where they’re at following a shootout win against the Sabres that left them with 102 points and the No. 2 spot in the East. They’ll be opening with the Capitals on Thursday at TD Garden, as the Capitals won Saturday night in New York while the Panthers clinched the Southeast Division with a win over Carolina, clinching the No. 3 seed in the East. The Capitals wound up as the No. 7 seed while the Senators – who will play the Rangers – finished as the No. 8 seed.
“I got the app that shows you all the scores on the old iPhone so obviously I’m going to take a look by the end of the night and see who we’re up against,” Lucic said afterward. “It’s going to be a hard-fought battle no matter who we play… We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Added Claude Julien, “That’s the feel that there should be in the dressing room. Anybody who decides who they want as an opponent, whether it’s, you know, saying, ‘Oh, I’d rather play this team than that team,’ or plays to pick their own opponents don’t deserve to win.
“That’s the way — this is a game. This is not wrestling, it’s not a fake sport, you don’t go out there and pretend to play and make sure you lose because you want a certain team to play against, because karma’s a pretty powerful thing, and I believe in doing the things right. And if we’re going to win, we’re going to have to beat every team that comes in our way, and that’s the way we’ve approached it.”