Tonight it's "SHOWTIME" as they say. Two of the three hottest teams in the Eastern Conference meet. Right now the Bruins are eleven (11) points of the Capitals in the standings, they are 1 & 2 in the Conference. For the Capitals, they have the added incentive of knowing both the NY Rangers and the Montreal Canadeans are only one point behind them and the Philadelphia Flyers are only two points back. The last time the two teams met was at Verizon center on December 10th and the Capitals won 3-1 in regulation. Given the Bruins are 33-7-4,it's probably not overstatement to call that a rare loss for boys from Beantown. The Bruins are currently leading the entire league with 70 points and they have their own three team competition going with the San Jose Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings for the leagues #1 slot, who each have 69 and 68 points respectively. Further given the Bruins and the Caps play four times this season, this is the second of two games at Verizon Center, and the last two games of the regular season are at Boston on January 27th and February 28th; a victory in regulation in tonight's game is the best way for the Caps to make sure they end up no worse than even with the Bruins in this regular season series.
Overall this season the Bruins have basically feasted on teams from the Southeast Division, though you could also say the Bruins have pretty much feasted on everyone, but especially those from the Southeast Division. The B's, as it turns out, have played a dozen games against Southeast Division teams (the Caps have only played eight) and have compiled a stellar 11-1-0 record in those games. Of course as already stated that one loss, however, was at the hands of the Capitals just over a month ago. It should be a very good game and likely a tight, low scoring affair, unless one of the goaltenders has a particularly bad night. That seems unlikely the way both teams and all four of their Goalies are currently playing, but you never know. The Bruins last played on Thursday night at Nassau County Coliseum and beat the NY Islanders 2-1 in regulation. The Capitals, of course, last played Thursday Night at Pittsburgh beating the Penguins 6-3 in regulation. Both teams will be well rested, both still have several key players out of the lineup, though this might be the first time this season when the Capitals face a top notch opponent who is banged up at least as much as they are - might be. Boston's young standouts Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron are currently day-to-day and may or may not play tonight. However Marco Sturm is out for the season and team goals leader Phil Kessel is definitely not in the lineup for tonight. For the Capitals, Tom Poti (groin), Chris Clark (healthy), Boyd Gordon (healthy) and Shaone Morrisonn (lower body) will be the scratches tonight. Brian Pothier remains out for the season with no forecast return and it's looking like Poti's return will be delayed a while longer.
However, since looking almost human for the first week of January, the Bruins seem to have returned to form winning their last three games while only allowing opponents to score just one goal per game. The Capitals have also been looking somewhat human since January 1st and fans are no doubt hoping Thursday's win over the rival Penguins at the Igloo in Pittsburgh signals a return to the consistent form they displayed during the month of December. The NHL-leading Bruins look to win an eighth straight road game and continue pulling away from the Capitals avenging their only defeat away from home since Thanksgiving. The Capitals look to resume their winning ways at Verizon Center after dropping their last two games at home.
Players to watch:
Boston: Center David Krejci - With Milan Lujic and Phil Kessel out, Krejci, currently the #11 scorer in the NHL, plays pivot on the line the Bruins are looking to for their main scoring punch. In the last three games Krejci and his linemates (Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler)have delivered 4 of the 10 goals that Boston has scored.
Defenseman: Zdeno Chara - Chara can always be counted to play big in big games against "A" list talent. Look for him to work hard to have a good night against Ovechkin, Semin and Federov. Given he is a "minute muncher" for Boston, at age 31, the talented 6'1", 255# "Z" remains a force to be reckoned with on the Bruins blueline. He'll no doubt be counted on for on the order of 25 minutes of ice time this evening.
The Bruins Goaltender, probably Tim Thomas who has been on tear all season long, Tim Thomas is the best bargain for a budding superstar, yes I said superstar, in the NHL. However. "even" if Manny Fernandez gets the start, he's definitely no slouch and the Caps will need to play hard, crash the net and "get down low" to generate traffic and score some goals.
Washington: The "Young Guns" and Jose Theodore who is likley to get the start in goal for the Caps. As Bruce Boudreau was quoted last week, the Caps need their big stars to play like it in order to win. The good news is that both Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin cam alive against the Penguis and they usually stay that way for a while. Alexander Semin is playing himself back to shape and should be improved. Look for him to do well.=, especially when he's out on the ice with Ovechkin, Backstom, and/or Federov. Mike "Game Over" Green has the harder assignment tonight. He has to play well and shine, but he also has to play solid defense and that means playing within himself. Even with the guys Boston has out injured, if Green takes a chance and doesn't get solid backup from his likely defense partner, John Erskine, AND one of the forwards out on the ice doesn't lag to ensure an effective clogging of the neutral zone or backcheck, the Caps could just as easily let up a goal as score one. Given the few goals Boston has given up in most games this season, the need for a solid defensive game from the Caps overall, and likely a few saves that surprise the Boston forwards, is virtually a given. Here's rooting for Jose Theodore to get his second shutout of the season or Brent Johnson to get his first.
Prediction: Caps 3 - Boston 2 - why? Because I'm a "homer" and a Caps fan, right now due to injuries the Caps have a better overall lineup, and because the game probably means more to the Capitals. Chip and I will be Rockin' the Red in Section 103; can't wait.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!