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Game 80 Preview: Bruins (41-25-13) at Capitals (44-25-11)

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The Bruins are looking to #ScoreAGoal against the Caps tonight.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After a wild finish to yesterday's games, the Bruins woke up this morning back in a familiar spot: 8th in the East.

In case you live under a rock and the rock doesn't get good wifi, the Ottawa Senators won again last night. The Sens rallied from 3-0 down after 15 minutes to tie the game with about a minute remaining, then won in OT. While the fading Pittsburgh Penguins did salvage a point, the two points leave Ottawa even with the Bruins at 95 points. The Bruins have one in hand, playing today while Ottawa does not. The Sens now have the nothing-left-to-play-for President's Trophy-winning Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers left on the schedule

The Detroit Red Wings did their best to contribute to the chaos--as a result of other hockey shenanigans last night, the current playoff structure out West includes the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets but not the Los Angeles Kings--by trailing Carolina 2-1 in the 3rd. Unfortunately, they woke up and won, possibly because their souls are forwarded to the Hockey demons if they don't make the playoffs for the 683rd straight year.

Anyway, where this leaves the Bruins is essentially where they were before the action of the 7th. Just win, baby. The Bruins have a three-game road trip to close the season, which starts tonight against a resurgent Washington Capitals team, one of the four squads in the East to have officially clinched. You might have heard that the Bruins have been shut out twice by these guys. Yadda yadda no one cares.

The Orpikian Washington Capitals: 99 Points, 4th in the East (2nd in Metro)

The Caps have been a problem that the Bruins haven't solved this year, but it's not exactly a mystery why. One year removed from the Adam Oates regime yanking them out of the playoff structure for first time since 2007, Washington added Barry Trotz, some new defensemen, a massive year from Braden Holtby, and an actual NHL-level system to return to more of the Eastern Conference contender we're used to seeing. Hanging in the first wild card spot for much of the season, a recent 7-2-1 stretch, coupled with injury troubles/a drop in form for the Isles and Pens, have them in 2nd in the Metro.

The question leading into this game is simple: the Caps have one point on the Isles and three on the Pens for a potential home-ice for the 2nd-3rd Metro match-up. Their two games remaining are this one, and a 12:30 PM Saturday match-up against the New York Rangers. The Rangers have nothing left to play for. So the question is, do the Capitals come out firing for this game? Or rest Holtby et al?

Forward Lines:

Offense is down again, and Ovechkin has 52 goals. Yes, a lot of those have come on the man-advantage. No, it does not really matter where the hell your goals come from if you're scoring ten more than the second place player in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom are still deadly, and, while the Caps actually have solid depth this season, those guys are the ones you bend over backwards to try and keep off the board. Of course, since I was originally leading with talking about the Backstrom-Ovechkin combo, the Caps are currently in one of those stages where they've separated the two:

Joel Ward - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Alex Ovechkin

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer

Curtis Glengross - Brooks Laich - Jason Chimera

Andre Burakovsky - Michael Latta - Stanislav Galiev

The only real difference between last year's Caps forwards is the promotion of some younger players and the rental in Glencross.

UPDATE 1: Hat tip to multiple Caps people for pointing out that Wilson's injury will keep him out tonight. Stan Galiev will be making his NHL Debut.

D-Pairings:

The Washington FO imported 1/3rd of the Pittsburgh blue line from last year, with mixed results. Orpik actually hasn't been terrible after a very slow start. This is partly because he's playing with US of A Olympian John Carlson, who's 11-42-53 for the year while playing some fairly tough assignments, so in conjunction with the fact that he's done that while standing near Orpik, probably deserves the Norris.

The Capitals definitely stick to the "one puck-mover, one stay at home guy" set-up through the D-Pairings, with Niskanen (having an underrated year because of lack of power play time) and Alzner, then impending free agent (and still good) Mike Green and deadline pick-up Gleason.

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Mike Green - Tim Gleason

There's a lot of talk about an improved Caps defense. While that's true, a big part of it is a better system and...

And In Net:

...this guy.

Braden Holtby

Justin Peters

No goalie in the league has started as many games as #70 this year, as Holtby's rebounded from an off-year to have a .922 through seventy-one games. Carey Price, rightly championed as the saver of the Montreal Canadiens asses this year, has *only* played 64, for example. Rask has (somewhat infuriatingly) played 67.

Peters is not a good goalie, and if the Caps roll him out there it's a good chance that means they're content with being in a playoff spot.

Your Within-A-Stone's-Throw-(Or Goal)-Of-Clinching Boston Bruins: 95 Points, 8th in the East (1 game in hand on virtually everyone)

Got to wonder if we see the Bergeron line get hot at "the right time," as they've actually been fairly quiet on the scoring front recently. They'll have Eriksson on the right wing, if this is any indication. For those of you allergic to clicking links, I'm going by the practice lines which are, of course, subject to Claude.

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Loui Eriksson

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - David Pastrnak

Chris Kelly - Ryan Spooner - Brett Connolly

Gregory Campbell - Carl Soderberg - Reilly Smith

Okaaaaaay. It appears that the Marchand-Bergeron-Krejci experiment is over, which is probably for the best given their lack of scoring at 5s and DK playing his way back into game shape. Marchand-Bergeron-Eriksson worked fine at the beginning of 2013-14 (though FWIW they also didn't score much), and it looks like this is their reunion. Also, this would leave Talbot as a scratch if that holds, which is confusing to me. While I am not the world's biggest Max Talbot fan, I have no idea how he's not considered a better winger option than Soupy considering, you know, he's played wing more and isn't Greg Campbell.

The old third line is now the fourth, only with Campbell rather than Kelly. Spooner is now wearing his Carl Soderberg mask rather than his David Krejci mask. Lucic and Pasta are still on the same line. Did I miss anything?

Also, while I'm sure Krejci moving back to his customary spot will yield dividends, I can't help but be wary of the decision to break up Lucic and the Cubs (if you click one link in this stupid post, click that one).

D-Pairings:

While he's definitely benefited from playing with Z, I'd like to use this space to say that I've been impressed with Zach Trotman. He's not the possession force that Hamilton is and he's already 24, but at six-three and over 200, he's got the size to be a contributor in a Top 4 spot (note that I am not saying this is definitely has future) and, for now, seems to be getting more comfortable about using that size.

Dennis Seidenberg was/is sick, and missed practice yesterday. If we assume he misses the game too, this is what the pairings probably look like:

Zdeno Chara - Zach Trotman

Matt Bartkowski - Adam McQuaid

Torey Krug - Joe Morrow

Hamilton isn't going on the trip, so welcome back to Joe Morrow! The less said about that second pairing, the better. Sometimes it's hard to believe this team has won 41 games with some of the pairings we've borne witness to this season.

And In Net:

Tuukka Rask

Niklas Svedberg

This will be the final time that I log my protest towards the wisdom (or lack thereof) in starting your goaltender on back-to-back days. However, with the playoffs on the line I fully expect Rask in on both halves of the back-to-back, and what with the Florida Panthers--tomorrow's opponent--not exactly being an offense powerhouse, it likely won't hurt as much as it could.

~

This is one of those NBCSN games, so we have to wait until 8 PM for hockey. We probably need to make a "Jack Edwards reacts to NBC commentary" bingo card.

UPDATE 2: Holtby is a go for tonight, so let's assume the Caps do, in fact, want to win.