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Late additions paying off as Caps, Bruins open playoffs

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Both the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins hope their trade-deadline day acquisitions continue to be difference makers when they kick off their Stanley Cup playoff opening-round series Saturday in Washington, D.C.

The Capitals (36-15-5, 77 points) finished second in the East Division, having benefited from the addition of forward Anthony Mantha, who collected four goals and four assists in 14 games after being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings and will suit up in the NHL playoffs for the first time in his career.

As impressive as Mantha’s contributions are, they are overshadowed by what Taylor Hall has done since joining the Bruins via trade from the Buffalo Sabres. Hall, the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2010, scored eight goals and added six assists in 16 games for the Bruins (33-16-7, 73 points), who finished third in East Division.

“It’s been 16 games. It’s probably been some of the most enjoyable hockey I’ve played in my career,” said Hall, the 2018 Hart Trophy winner while with the New Jersey Devils, whose addition has given the Bruins a potent second line. “I really hope there’s more to come.”

Both Washington and Boston won four of the eight meetings during the regular season, although two of Washington’s wins came in extra time.

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The Capitals, who are facing the Bruins in a playoff series for the fourth time in history and first time since 2012, go into the series on an 11-4-1 run that came while dealing with injuries to key forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, defenseman John Carlson and goalie Ilya Samsonov. Also, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov spent time on the COVID-19 protocol list.

While Ovechkin and Backstrom returned before the regular season ended, and Carlson said he’s good to play, questions remain regarding the status of Oshie, Kuznetsov and Samsonov, which may mean rookie goalie Vitek Vanecek could be the man between the pipes.

“We will see what will happen in the playoffs,” said Vanecek, who posted a 21-10-4 record with 2.69 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. “It’s the first time, but I will do what I can to help the team win every single game. It’s really good and I’m excited.”

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A healthy Carlson would be a boost for the Capitals. He’s tied for fifth in the league in scoring among defensemen with 44 points (10 goals, 34 assists).

“Every single player growing up, every single player as you get older, you dream about these moments and (having) a chance to win,” Carlson said. “The regular season is long and pounding and hard, no matter if it’s this year or another normal year.

“But all of that work you put in over the summer, all of that work you put in throughout the year and the ups and downs you’ve had to overcome and get through to this point, to have a chance to win that trophy is what makes everything special.”

The Bruins posted a 12-4-1 record to finish the regular season, and will have forward Charlie Coyle back in the lineup to solidify their third line after he missed the final four games due to injury.

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Adding a wrinkle to the series is the fact the Bruins will face their long-time captain Zdeno Chara, who signed with the Capitals in the offseason after 14 seasons in Boston.

“Obviously teams will do video and stuff like that, but he knows all the code names that we use, and typically the situations that we like to use them in,” forward Brad Marchand said of Chara’s knowledge of his former team.

“So even when we played them this season, we could see him talking to guys about the plays that we were gonna do. It can definitely cause some challenges at times, but it’s the playoffs. You’ve gotta work through that.”

–Field Level Media

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