The NHL unveiled the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff schedule on Sunday afternoon and the 16 teams that qualified now start 0-0 as they vie for one of the most coveted trophies in all of sports. The Washington Capitals, by virtue of their thrashing of the New York Rangers on Saturday combined with Ottawa’s loss to the New Jersey Devils, ended up in 7th place in the Eastern Conference. As a result they draw the #2 seed, which is none other than the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
Washington will be a heavy underdog in this series but that doesn’t mean a whole lot once the puck is dropped. The Caps had a difficult regular season but for the first time since the first seven games of the season, their skaters are all healthy. Nicklas Backstrom had his best outing in the win over New York since returning from a 40 game absence due to a concussion. Mike Green is as healthy as he is going to be following hernia surgery in January and there are no other major ailments that coach Dale Hunter has to deal with at forward or on defense.
The problem though, is that both goalies Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth are injured leaving rookie Braden Holtby as the likely starter when this series kicks off on Thursday in Beantown. The good news is that Holtby hasn’t played like a rookie and #70 does not represent a big dropoff from Vokoun and Neuvirth. Holtby, who has been compared to a young Olie Kolzig, brings an added dimension with his ability to play the puck. NHL defensemen like a goalie who can do that effectively because it limits the number of times they can be rammed into the back boards by opposing forwards.
It will be up to Hunter and assistant coach Jim Johnson to take advantage of Holtby’s superior stickhandling skills to neutralize a Bruins team that likes to get the puck deep and physically pound their opponent with Milan Lucic and the scrappy Brad Marchand. Boston also has some serious skill up front in Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Tyler Seguin. Their defense is lead by 2009 Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara and in goal they have two time Vezina trophy winner, Tim Thomas. Boston is a very good team and the Caps will have their hands full, no doubt.
I will have my series preview up later in the week but for now here is the full schedule, including television information, for the first round series:
Thursday, April 12, 2012 7:30 p.m. Washington at Boston TV: CSN, NBCSN, CBC
Saturday, April 14, 2012 3 p.m. Washington at Boston TV: NBC, CBC
Monday, April 16, 2012 7:30 p.m. Boston at Washington TV: CSN, NBCSN, CBC
Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:30 p.m. Boston at Washington TV: CSN, NBCSN, CBC
*Saturday, April 21, 2012 3 p.m. Washington at Boston TV: NBC, CBC
*Sunday, April 22, 2012 TBD Boston at Washington TV: TBD
*Wednesday, April 25, 2012 TBD Washington at Boston TV: TBD