It's finally here.
Don't get me wrong; Ovechkin will have an impact on this series. But whether he'll have a greater impact on the Capitals' game or the Bruins' game is the real question.
We know Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron will affect the Bruins positively. You can get that analysis anywhere you'd like. What I'm interested in seeing is simple:
Will the Bruins hit the switch and revert to November form or will the inconsistency that plagued them for the last 15 weeks of the season be their downfall?
These Bruins aren't bipolar, but they didn't undergo any major changes during the season like Washington did. The Capitals are still trying to find an identity with Dale Hunter behind the bench, and are struggling to convert to his game plan for them - their offense has been stymied and their defense struggles way too much in its own end still, and the revolving door/infirmary that has become their goaltending situation doesn't do much to inspire confidence.
But Boston - whose only real loss personnel-wise all year was Nathan Horton - struggled to find consistency for other reasons. Yes, Rich Peverley missed five weeks; yes, Tuukka Rask missed the last month of the season; yes, Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid and Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille battled injuries and missed games here and there.
But with the exception of McQuaid (and Horton, who's out for the entire post-season), everyone's back now. Which brings us back to the question of which Bruins team will show up: the one that lost three games in regulation in two months and finished the season with wins in nine of their last 12 or the one that took nearly three months to win consecutive games during the meat and potatoes of the season? Will we get the team that beat St. Louis convincingly and whipped Philadelphia around all season and played some of its best hockey against the top-seeded New York Rangers or the one that got swept in the season series against Carolina?
That bit about the Rangers is cause for hope - sure, Boston went 1-2-1 against the Blueshirts this year, but they played some of their best hockey in those games, as they did against St. Louis and Detroit and Nasvhille and other playoff teams.
Then again, Washington is no St. Louis or New York. The Caps went 3-1 against Boston this year with a shootout win in their most recent meeting on March 29th, but the two teams were a dead lock with 12 goals apiece in their four games and Boston's heavy style often frustrated Washington, whose coach wants them to play a similar game but whose personnel wants to get into open ice and demoralize opponents on the scoreboard instead.
It's the playoffs, so physical teams are supposed to win over finesse teams. It happened last year for Boston; it happened last night for Philadelphia, Nashville and LA. Of course, just because Boston plays physical doesn't mean that the series will be a walk - Ovechkin is likely to win a game by himself, regardless of who he's paired with, and the Bruins will probably muff one of the matinee games at some point, too.
But when all's said and done, this is Boston's series to lose. Which is exactly what they won't do.
Bruins in 6