The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us, and by the end of it you'll feel like The Walking Dead. Hence, zombie motif!
The Boston Bruins thought it'd be the Ottawa Senators in the first round, right until the final weekend of the season, when the Washington Capitals slipped into the No. 7 seed.
And, in the process, may have given the defending Stanley Cup champs a tougher first-round fight than expected.
Can the Bruins contain a resurgent Alex Ovechkin? Can the Capitals match Boston's physical play? Will games in D.C. contain more shots on goal or Tim Thomas/White House references in the crowd?
Here's the breakdown of the Bruins and Caps, complete with Zombified observations …
Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7)
April 12: Washington at Boston, 7:30 p.m.
April 14: Washington at Boston, 3 p.m.
April 16: Boston at Washington, 7 p.m.
April 19: Boston at Washington, 7 p.m.
April 21: Washington at Boston, 3 p.m.
April 22: Boston at Washington, TBA*
April 25: Washington at Boston, TBA*
The Cup champs bring grit, solid defense and strong offense at the forward spot. The line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Tyler Seguin was a combined plus-101 this season. Seguin led the B's with 29 goals and 67 points; Bergeron was second with 64 points; while Marchand was second on the team with 28 goals. It's a line that can beat you in both ends of the rink — Bergeron, the likely Selke winner, has a 59.3 faceoff winning percentage.
Milan Lucic (26 goals) and David Krejci (62 points) combine on the other scoring line, with hard-working Rich Peverley (42 points) chipping in. The Bruins got 20 goals out of key third-liner Chris Kelly and 32 points out of former Jack Edwards whipping boy Benoit Pouliot. Brian Rolston had 15 in 21 games, but only three goals. This team is going to miss Nathan Horton's clutch scoring last postseason (17 points in 21 games, with three GWG).
In the Capitals' 41 wins, Alex Ovechkin has 27 goals and 21 assists. In their 37 losses, he has 11 goals and six assists. That should give you a sense of how important an offensive engine Ovechkin is to this team. He'll likely start the series with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, two players that can retrieve pucks and give him space to fire.
With the Ovechkin line likely drawing Zdeno Chara, the Capitals' second unit of Jason Chimera-Nicklas Backstrom-Alexander Semin will be counted on heavily. Semin had just 21 goals on the year and Backstrom missed a ton of time to a concussion; but Chimera was a revelation this season, using his speed and toughness to score 20 goals. Marcus Johansson (46 points) and Mathieu Perreault (30 points) can provide some offense; Matt Hendricks, some sandpaper. Will 2011 playoff hero Joel Ward finally begin to earn his keep offensively?
Chara (25:00 TOI) is a beast (right ladies?), finishing the season at a plus-33 and scoring 52 points while playing against some of the toughest opponents in the League. He and Dennis Seidenberg are one of the NHL's top shutdown pairs, and should see copious amounts of Ovechkin (who was goal-less in three games vs. the B's).
Johnny Boychuk (20:36) is battling a bum knee, but if he's good to go then his pairing with Andrew Ference is a very solid one. Adam McQuaid was day-to-day as of Monday with some head injuries; Greg Zanon and Joe Corvo could be the third pairing, with Mike Mottau in the wings.
Former Bruin Dennis Wideman paced the Capitals defense in TOI (23:54) and points (46). He should be paired with Jeff Schultz. The "Carlzner" duo of Karl Alzner and John Carlson saw the latter have an underwhelming season (minus-15). Mike Green has one point since his return from injury on Feb. 18; he should be paired with vet Roman Hamrlik. Dmitry Orlov waits in the wings.
When the Zombie Apocalypse happens, Tim Thomas will be the Bruins' survivor. Like we need to tell you he probably has a weapons cache, a basement of canned food and a truck that runs on cow excrement somewhere on his property.
When the Zombie Apocalypse happens, Mike Green will be the survivor, provided the Zombie Apocalypse happens during the playoffs where he can use his power of invisibility.
Thomas didn't replicate his Vezina campaign in the regular season, going 35-19-1 with a GAA of 2.36 and a save percentage of .920. He won the Conn Smythe last season and his playoff numbers are outstanding. If he can weather the Capitals attack and the incessant questions about his White House boycott, Thomas will be a difference-maker here. If not … well, it might be Tuukka Time.
Braden Holtby has long been considered perhaps the best young goalie in the Capitals' system, and he'll have to do some growing up fast now that the gig is his to start the playoffs. He's a 22-year-old with a big frame and a little snarl to his game. Thomas would love him. The Caps hope either Michal Neuvirth or Tomas Vokoun gets healthy enough to return; or else, it's Dany Sabourin as the safety net. Yikes.
The Bruins are that zombie that staggers out of O'Sullivan's pub at 3 a.m. smelling of rotting teeth. Oh, wait, sorry, that's a townie, not a zombie.
The Capitals are that "28 Days Later" rage zombie that runs around like crazy until it realizes it's not finding any brains, so it becomes slow and deliberate.
Claude Julien finally silenced his critics with some championship bling last season. The Bruins are a tough team to play 5-on-5 and a team that knows how to execute defensively in the postseason. The way Julien manages matchups — Chara on Ovechkin for example — will be a key to the series.
Dale Hunter was given the ignominious honor of "worst coach" on this blog. That's a little harsh, but Hunter's had issues with personnel decisions and line matching during his tenure with the Capitals — as well as coaxing consistent, 60-minute performances from his players.
The Bruins, who struggled mightily last postseason on the power play, were 15th in the NHL this season at 17.2 percent. The Capitals were a few notches back at No. 18, at 16.7 percent. The Caps were better at home (18.7); the Bruins were better on the road (19.6).
Boston was 11th on the kill at a 83.5-percent conversation rate in 260 times shorthanded. In 266 shorthanded chances, the Capitals were 21st at 81.6 percent.
In order to defeat the Bruins, the Capitals need to score early and force the issue offensively against the Boston defensive front. Dictate play to the Bruins, rather than allowing them to set the tempo and the physical tone.
In order to defeat the Capitals, the Bruins need to pin their defensively inefficient lines (hello, No. 8) in their own zone and capitalize on those chances. Smothering Ovechkin, the team's catalyst, is essential.
Bruins in 7. It's the Capitals' way to make this thing interesting, looking like a potential Cup champ in three games and an also-ran in the other four. Washington's shown spurts of good hockey lately, and could take a game in Boston. But in the end, the Bruins will have enough defense and stamina to take out the Caps in the finale.