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NHL Playoffs 2012, Bruins vs. Capitals Preview: The Forwards

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Admit it, you were all hoping for Ottawa weren’t you? So while the Boston Bruins trade in one nation’s capital for another, it makes what was once a more clear path through the Stanley Cup Playoffs a little more hazy.

Yes, the Washington Capitals scraped into the playoffs. They are not the juggernaut they have been advertised as the past few seasons. But they are a skilled team who now come in as underdogs against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

And with a forward corps that boasts the likes of Alex Semin, Nickolas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin, Bruins fans should not underestimate the team by the Potomac.

So let’s get down to facts. Despite the absence of Nathan Horton the Bruins will enter the post season with the third highest-scoring offense and six 20 goal scorers on the roster, the only team in the league who can boast that. Depth, as it always has been under GM Peter Chiarelli, will be the key.

While the Capitals have the leagues’ fifth highest goal scorer in Ovechkin, only the inconsistent Semin has more than 20 goals on the season. And while Backstrom certainly looks to be getting back in sync he is still coming off a major concussion.

What may become a problem for the Bruins is that Caps coach Dale Hunter has shown that he is not opposed to keeping his big guns spread out. Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin only line up together 3.24% of the time at even strength meaning that defensive mismatches can happen if Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenburg stay strictly assigned to Ovechkin.

But where the offense will center on these players for Washington, the Bruins can expect at least three lines that can generate offense whenever needed. Head coach Claude Julien will also have a lot of flexibility when he needs to produce some scoring.

That flexibility will center around leading scorer Tyler Seguin. The sophomore certainly made a name for himself riding shotgun with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand but his skill set earned him a spot on the top line for a few weeks.

Do not be surprised to see Seguin take a few shifts with David Krejci and Milan Lucic throughout the playoffs. It is a line combination that can be extremely potent simply due to the unique skill sets that each forward brings to the table. Lucic’s size and strength will create room for Krejci to find lanes and send creative passes to Seguin who has the kind of shot that makes him the perfect trigger man.

The X-factor though will be the third line of Chris Kelly, Beniot Pouliot, and Brian Rolston. Rolston and Pouliot in particular factor in because they are the closest approximations Chiarelli brought in to replace Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi. Pouliot has shown flashes of the first round talent a he possesses throughout the season but it is yet to be seen whether he shares Ryder’s ability to turn it on in the playoffs.

Rolston may actually be an upgrade over Recchi. He still has decent speed and a shot that rivals Johnny Boychuck’s, both skills that Recchi lacked at 42. As such Rolston can slot in to more situations and still expect to produce.

Lastly, Bruins forwards have one major advantage that could be the key to the whole series: faceoff ability.

Boston ranks first in the league on faceoffs at 54.5% compared to the Capitals who sit at 17th with an even 50%. Bergeron in particular won an amazing 59.3% of the 1,641 faceoffs he took this season, compared to the 47.6% success rate Caps' leading faceoff man Brooks Laich had on the 1,394 he took. Of the four Bruins players that took at least 500 faceoffs each one won more than 50% compared to only two for the Capitals.

And in a system that is based heavily on puck possession, getting those pucks in key situations will mean the world.