Regular season series: Boston, 4-2-2
PuckLuck Series Win Percentage: Boston 57.21%
The 2021 NHL playoffs are underway tonight, as the Boston Bruins are in Washington to face the Capitals. If the matchup sounds familiar you should get used to it, as only the teams that advance past the first two rounds will finally break free from their division foes.
While looking at this season's matchup history is an easy reference point for potential series performance, it's important to weigh in new team additions, such as Boston's Taylor Hall, and players out of the lineup due to injury, illness, or suspension, such as Evgeny Kuzentsov.
In this preview, we'll run down the important definitions of each team, as well as what it means for the potential betting outcome. We'll begin with the lower seed:
Boston Bruins (3)
Bovada Stanley Cup Odds: +900
Projected Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask
Key Injuries: Ondrej Kase (DTD), John Moore (OUT)
The Bruins rode hot goaltending and the acquisition of star winger Taylor Hall to finish the season as one of the league's hottest teams down the stretch. Since trading for Hall and forward Curtis Lazar from the Buffalo Sabres, the B's posted a whopping 12-4-1 record.
Hall teamed up with linemates David Krejci and Craig Smith to form one of the best second lines in hockey. Pair that with one of the best first lines in the game in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, and the Bruins have suddenly went from not only a deep forward group but a top-heavy one as well.
Goaltending all season was never in question in Boston, as the Bruins lost both Rask and Jaroslav Halak for stretches during the season and never missed a beat with Dan Vladar and the revelation in Jeremy Swayman. Rask is expected to be the man between the pipes for this series, but Swayman seems to have claimed the backup role and may even get an opportunity to start should Rask falter.
The question in Boston lays with the defense. Charlie McAvoy is a perennial Norris Trophy contender at this point, but he leads a group that is otherwise somewhat a question mark. Mike Reilly has been a nice acquisition for the club, and pairs with Brandon Carlo to form a solid second pair. Matt Grzelcyk has had an elevated role this season, as he's been relied upon as the team's powerplay quarterback and top point generator from the backend. He's been just okay in the role, and Boston may need more from him if they want to truly compete for the Cup.
Projected Lineup, Round 1:
Marchand - Bergeron - Pastrnak
Hall - Krejci - Cr. Smith
N. Ritchie - Kuraly - Coyle
Frederic - Lazar - Wagner
Grzelcyk - McAvoy
Reilly - Carlo
Lauzon - Ke. Miller
Washington Capitals (2)
Bovada Stanley Cup Odds: +1700
Projected Starting Goalie: Vitek Vanecek
Key Injuries: Evgeny Kuznetsov (COVID), Ilya Samsonov (COVID)
The Capitals' approach to the season has been quite the opposite of Boston's. They've been without their assumed starting goalie, Samsonov, for long stretches of the season, and subsequently were one of the highest scoring teams in the league to make up for it. This is despite a lot of lineup shuffling up front, including at the tail end of the regular season as injuries and "maintenance days" were necessary for stars Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie alike.
Most players have bumps and bruises heading into the playoffs, but obviously key players missing games is cause for concern. On top of that, an off-ice event has landed Kuznetsov in COVID protocol, in an odd situation that has rumors of the team moving on from him come season's end. With the Russian center's status up in the air, the Caps will be short-staffed up front to begin this series.
The other culprit in the undisclosed off-ice event resulting in COVID protocols is Samsonov, leaving Vanecek to carry the load for Washington. While the team has been able to win with him, Vanecek has not been good this season relative to his peers. He cost the Caps -0.24 goals per game during the season, and will need to get hot to give the Capitals a chance to make a deep playoff run.
The club's backend is, has been, and likely will be their rock heading into this series. From top to bottom, each pair is stacked nicely with a combination of puck movers and balanced offensive and defensive zone play. The third pair of Zdeno Chara and Nick Jensen are one of the league's top penalty killing duos, and John Carlson is a top five offensive defenseman talent.
Projected Lineup, Round 1:
Ovechkin - Backstrom - Mantha
Sheary - Eller - Oshie
Sprong - Raffl - Wilson
Hagelin - Dowd - Hathaway
Dillon - Carlson
Orlov - Schultz
Chara - Jensen
Game 1 Moneyline: Boston -125; Washington +105
Game 1 PuckLine: Boston -1.5 +200, Washington +1.5 -240
Game 1 Over/Under: 5.5 Over +100; Under -130
Yes, the seeding is tight in this matchup, but it is still telling that the Bruins come out of the gate as favorites on the road in this series. The Capitals have a lot more question marks heading into the matchup, especially with some of their key contributors.
Being the higher seed and keeping names like Ovechkin and Oshie in the lineup will likely keep the lines close, but the reality is that Boston is the much better team right now, even if Washington wasn't banged up. Playoff hockey sees a little more 5-on-5 play, which usually results in some of the better depth role players coming up big. While both teams have some quality role players in their respective bottom sixes, Boston is deeper and can more effectively role four lines. Look for names like Trent Frederic, Nick Ritchie, and Lazar to score a big goal or two.
Ultimately the better goaltender usually wins the series, and Rask is leaps and bounds ahead of Vanecek. Boston moneyline should be a safe bet throughout the series, as we have the Bruins projected to win four of the first five games in this series.
Puckline is a different story. Buying into these odds aren't likely to be profitable, and can be a parlay disrupter as well. Games are likely to stay close, as the defensive play of the Bruins should negate some of the Washington firepower. The Bruins may erupt at times in the offensive zone to take advantage of Vanecek, but you may be clenching your teeth on empty-net opportunities if you wish to take a swing at the spread.
We have Game 1 of the series projected at 5.66 total goals at the time of this publishing, so an over/under of 5.5 is a tough one to flirt with. We've adjusted all of our projections to match the slight drop in scoring during the playoffs, and familiarity of playing each other throughout the season may play a role in scoring totals as well. Much like the puckline, we're likely staying away from these lines - pending any major lineup changes between the clubs.