Bruins up against an atypical No. 7 seed in explosive Washington


Bruins up against an atypical No. 7 seed in explosive Washington

The Bruins might have had an easier time with the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs.

But the stone, cold reality of the Stanley Cup playoff situation is that Boston has instead drawn an incredibly tough No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference in the Washington Capitals. Washington is full of talent and possibility, but very short on results this season.

Its a reality Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has made peace with while others might have had their fingers crossed for a trip to Ottawa.

Ive gotten over the hoping to play somebody thing over the years. At some point youll have to play these teams and beat them. Often times, the season matchup doesnt translate into the postseason matchup, said Chiarelli. Record shows we havent played as well against Washington, and for that reason it will probably be a tough opponent. Were not disappointed, but just ready to move on and face them as tough opponents. Ottawa wouldve been just as hard.

Sure the Caps struggled their way into the playoffs and underachieved from the get-go through injuries and underperformance, but they still have some of the best offensive hockey talent in the NHL.

Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin can create offense against the best defenses in the NHL, and Nicklas Backstrom has returned to full health just as the postseason rolled around. Add that to offensive-minded defenseman like Dennis Wideman and Mike Green who has struggled all season with injuries, but still has the potential inside of him and there is a goal-producing juggernaut lying in wait.

Chiarelli was well aware of that along with Bostons 1-2-1 record against the Caps this season, and Semins 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in his last 15 games against the Bs. There are good matchups and there are bad matchups in Stanley Cup playoff series, and drawing Washington is less than ideal for the Black and Gold in their repeat bid.

I think we have to shut down their skill. Between Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom, theyve got good skill in the back end. Theyre a high-end skill team, and I think its really important we play the gaps tight in all three zones with these guys, said Chiarelli. We can do that. Thats the biggest things. We have to get pucks on their goalie. If its the goalie thats been playing, Braden Holtby, I think hes a good, young goalie thats just inexperienced. So we have to get traffic and pucks there.

While its true that Bostons ability to expose a Washington goaltending group beset by injuries Tomas Vokoun exited the last regular season game against the Bruins with a nagging groin issue and hasnt been seen since the BruinsCapitals series will turn into a game of match-ups. The Capitals will do whatever they can to squeeze as much production out of Ovechkin as possible, and hes been up to the challenge over the last month with 11 goals in his final 13 games.

Meanwhile the Bruins are going to attempt locking the Zdeno CharaDennis Seidenberg defensemen pairing on the ice against the Russian sniper as much as possible. The postseason series, in all likelihood, will hinge on Bostons tower of power shutdown defenseman putting the clamps on Washingtons most explosive offensive force.

Ovechkin has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 15 games against the Bruins with a minus-1 rating over that time, but a steady diet of Chara over the last two seasons has limited the Russian sniper to one goal and a minus-4 in seven games over the last two seasons.

Chiarelli assumed he wasnt giving away any state secrets by admitting the CharaOvechkin head-to-head battle will go a long way toward defining the winner and loser in the seven-game series.

I dont think we played very well against the Capitals this year. We went through a pretty long stretch when we were average and I think we played them twice in that stretch, said Chiarelli. Im not going to give you our matchups, but the big thing is, Zdeno Chara against Alexander Ovechkin.

Chara takes pride in shutting down Ovechkin, so I think obviously youre going to see that matchup. They have some good skill, some real good shooters and its important to keep those guys on the outside and away from the inside. So, theres a preliminary game plan for you.

Theres more to it than that, of course.

The Bruins offensive depth will have to do damage against a team defense and penalty kill that ended the season in the bottom third of the NHL over 82 regular season games, and partner with the shutdown defense. Its a tall order for the Bruins, but one made easier if Holtby gets the call for Washington with both Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth banged up.

Its a winnable series for the Bruins, but one that could take some starch out of them if stretches out to six or seven games.

In fact theres a realistic scenario with the Bruins being forced to play the Capitals, Penguins and Rangers as they make their way through the Eastern Conference gauntlet this spring, and thats a long, arduous road to the top.

Its possible for the Bruins to overcome all of this en route to a second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, but it will start by wiping the gap-toothed smile off the face of Ovechkin and his Capitals teammates.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1


STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl


Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.