Washington vs Boston: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Boston Bruins vs Washington Capitals
Washington vs. Boston, Division Semifinals, May 15, Capital One Arena

The Boston Bruins didn’t have the same energy and dominance that they had at home, but that didn’t stop Boston from closing out the Washington Capitals in five games Sunday. Washington was the more dominant team on the puck for the entire game, but the Capitals could not solve Tuukka Rask, who stopped 40 of the 41 shots he faced. Meanwhile, the Bruins capitalized on every little mistake the Capitals made and scored three times on 19 shots to set up a potential meeting with either Pittsburgh or the Islanders in the next round.

Boston Bruins win 4-1

What many people would have assumed to be a long series when the matchups for the NHL playoffs were set, turned out to be one of the first first-round series to end. The Washington Capitals could not match the intensity from the Boston Bruins, and the Bruins wore down the Capitals over the course of five games to advance. Much of that starts with the disparity in goaltending for the two teams. Washington started three different goalies in the first three games of the series, and though Ilya Samsonov performed the best, he wasn’t nearly as consistent as Tuukka Rask. The Bruins netminder was composed for the entire series, making the big saves when necessary and posting a .941 save percentage in addition to a 1.81 goals against average. Boston also did an excellent job at suffocating the Capitals’ power-play, using its NHL-best penalty kill to deny Washington any momentum on the man advantage by killing off 18 of 21 power plays. Now the Bruins await the winner of the series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Game 1

May 15, 7 p.m., Capital One Arena

The NHL playoffs are built on tough-nosed teams grinding out victories when pain is a given and determination is the difference in games. Both the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals embrace the grit required to have success in the postseason, so the first-round series between these East Division foes should be fun to watch. The two teams technically split the season series with four wins each, but Boston lost two of those games in overtime to collect an extra two points from the eight matchups. There is not much playoff history between the clubs with just three previous series, Washington having won the last two series, including an epic seven-game tilt in the 2011-12 campaign.

Few teams made themselves better like Boston did at the trade deadline on April 12. The acquisition of Taylor Hall and Mike Reilly – as well as fourth-liner Curtis Lazar – has plugged all of the holes Boston had in its lineup this season. Since the trade deadline, no team won more points than the 25 the Bruins collected in that span while Boston also scored the second-most goals in the league over the last month. The Bruins’ top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak was already one of the best lines in hockey, but the Bruins now have a legitimate second line as well. Since being paired together at the trade deadline, Hall, David Krejci and Craig Smith have combined for 19 goals and 45 points in 16 games together. The spark of offense pairs well with what has always been a stingy defensive squad that finished fourth in the NHL in goals allowed this season.

The Capitals have always been a team that relies on their offense to lead the way, but they have added a physical brand of hockey in recent years that has made them tougher to deal with in the playoffs. The challenge for Washington, though, will be the health of the roster. Almost all of the Capitals’ best players – Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin – missed time at the end of the season due to nagging injuries, and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov ended the year on the COVID-19 reserve list. Washington will need to be at full strength to match up with the Bruins, but if they can get healthy, there is plenty of talent to test the Bruins. The question for Washington has always been the goaltending, and that is especially true this year with two rookies between the pipes. Neither Samsonov nor Vitek Vanacek has played in an NHL playoffs game, let alone started one, so it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their regular season form in the brighter lights of the postseason.

When it comes to betting on this Stanley Cup playoffs series, Boston seems to have Washington’s number this season. The Bruins picked up at least one point in six of eight matchups this year with the Capitals despite the teams technically splitting the season series with four wins each. Washington’s only two wins in regulation came in a shellacking against a shorthanded Bruins team on the second night of a back-to-back right before the trade deadline then the season finale in which a last-second goal helped Washington escape a junior-varsity version of the Bruins. Boston is also the far healthier team and have looked far more dangerous over the past month, so I’ll pick the Bruins to take this series in six games for +415 odds. In addition, I’m going to make a risky pick at the legal sports betting sites in New Jersey by picking Hall to score the most goals in the series at +1000 odds. Hall has played extremely well since arriving in Boston at the trade deadline with eight goals in 16 games, so I’m betting on him taking his game to another level in the playoffs with the confidence of being on a legitimate contender.

As for Saturday’s first game in the series, I would be hard-pressed to bet against the Bruins at this point. In addition to being among the hottest teams in the NHL since the trade deadline, they have all the tools to be able to neutralize the Capitals. Boston’s size and physicality will be able to match what made Washington’s size and physicality, which is what made the Capitals such a dangerous team this season. The Bruins have both of their top-two lines rolling and their defense has looked very sharp in front of an in-form and rested Tuukka Rask in net. Boston should be able to get it done in 60 minutes, so I’ll bet on the Bruins to win in regulation for +128 odds.

BET ON BOSTON BRUINS TO WIN

Game 2 (Washington Capitals lead 1-0)

May 17, 7:30 p.m., Capital One Arena

What we witnessed in Game 1 between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals was the best of the Stanley Cup playoffs. These are two evenly-matched twos battling back-and-forth for more than 60 minutes before a gritty goal decides the matchup. That goal went to the host Capitals in the opener as Nic Dowd deflected home a T.J. Oshie drive from the blue line to give Washington an early 1-0 series lead in the NHL playoffs. Washington was able to survive a scary moment when Vitek Vanacek injured himself on Boston’s first goal and the Capitals had to turn to Craig Anderson, who stopped 21 of the 22 shots he faced in just his second appearance since April 15th and fifth appearance overall this season.

The biggest adjustment Boston needs to make for Game 2 is to find ways to put more pressure on the Capitals goalie. The Bruins had just 26 shots in Game 1, the fewest they have had with their first-team roster since April 6, and most of those came from the point. Boston’s best players – aside from David Pastrnak who had six shots – barely made a dent in the offensive zone, and those top-six forwards need to drive the ship for the Bruins on offense. Despite Boston finishing third in the league in shots on goal and Washington finishing in the middle of the pack, the Capitals have now outshot the Bruins in six of the last seven games between the teams. That must change if the Bruins are going to head home to Boston with a split from the first two games in Washington.

Washington deserves a lot of credit for the hard work it put in to score all three goals against the Bruins in Game 1. The Capitals took advantage of an ill-timed broken stick to convert on an odd-man rush then scored two goals by getting players to the front of the net and working their sticks in shooting lanes for deflections. If the Capitals continue to score these greasy goals, they will have a lot of success against Boston because the Bruins do not allow much space for skill to shine. Washington also deserves a lot of plaudits for how well it clogged the neutral zone and own defensive zone, denying the Bruins the time and space to make plays and use their speed. That type of defensive effort is going to be important moving forward especially with the trick situation in goal with either Anderson, who didn’t see much action in the regular season, or Ilya Samsonov, who hasn’t started a game in more than two weeks, likely to start for the Capitals.

There are a lot of signs pointing to the Capitals being the type of team that is going to give the Bruins a lot of trouble. The way Washington has outchanced and outshot the Bruins this season should give the hosts more respect from the top sports betting sites in New Jersey, who again installed Boston as the favorite. However, what I think these top hockey betting sites in New Jersey recognize is the Bruins haven’t lost consecutive games in nearly a month and went through entire season without losing consecutive games to the same opponent. Even while being outshot by Washington this season, the Bruins still won three times and scored at least four goals in each of those victories. A smart man might bet that Game 2 will also go to overtime at +295 odds because these teams have played nine consecutive one-goal playoff games and five of those went beyond regulation. In fact, more than half of the last 14 playoffs games played between these two teams have required at least one overtime. In addition, I’m going on the top NHL betting sites in New Jersey and betting on both Brad Marchand to score and the Bruins to win at +370 odds as well as Taylor Hall to score coupled with a Boston win for +425 odds.

BET ON BOSTON BRUINS TO WIN

Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)

May 19, 6:30 p.m., TD Garden

Make it 10 straight games between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup playoffs to be decided by one goal. Game 2 also marked the fourth consecutive NHL playoffs game between the two teams to require overtime to decide, and no surprise, they have split both of those games. Brad Marchand buried the game-winning goal 39 seconds into overtime, helping Boston escape Washington with a split after Taylor Hall tied the game with less than three minutes left. Now the series shifts to Boston where the Bruins have won eight of their nine games since the trade deadline.

The temperature of this series rose a few degrees in Game 2 as the physicality of the two teams was on full display during the game as well as after the whistle. This is only going to benefit the Capitals as the Bruins seemed to be goaded into penalties after the whistle, which only gives more opportunities for the Washington power play to shine. Nine of Washington’s 39 shots in Game 2 came on the man advantage, including a critical tying goal nearly 90 seconds after Boston took the lead in the first period. The Capitals hold a massive advantage on special teams despite Boston being the second-ranked penalty kill in the NHL this season because of the Bruins lack of desire to shoot the puck on the power play. If Washington can continue to stay disciplined after the whistle and let the Bruins take the stupid post-whistle penalties, it massively help the Capitals overcome playing on the road.

Boston’s biggest asset in playing on home ice is the gift of last change, which means Bruce Cassidy can match his lines better against some of the Capitals’ top units. Cassidy did a much better job at finding good matchups against the Alex Ovechkin line in Game 2, but now the Bruins coach can really control how his team is going to defend one of the best goal scorers to ever play in the game. One of the key developments from the latter part of Game 2 was the emergence of Boston’s top-six forwards after the two lines struggled in the first game of the series. Patrice Bergeron scored Boston’s second goal then Hall and Marchand scored the important ones late in regulation then in overtime. Combined, those top-six forwards combined for 27 of Boston’s 48 shots in the game, and if those top-two lines are buzzing and able to possess the puck and create scoring chances, it will be a long night for the Capitals on defense.

When it comes to betting on Game 3, there simply aren’t a lot of great options for this game. Boston is simply too big of a favorite at the top sports betting sites in New Jersey that there isn’t much value on picking them to win. You could buck the trend and bet on a multi-goal Bruins win, but the last 10 NHL playoffs games between these two teams during a seven-game series have been decided by one goal. You could bet on a third straight overtime game in this series for +310 odds, but I don’t know if it will actually get that far. Most of the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey have the Bruins as substantial favorites to win in regulation, but I found one with more favorable odds, so I’ll bet on Boston to win in regulation at +105 odds. In trying to add some value, I’ll go off the board by betting on Nick Ritchie to score a goal in front of the home fans for +300 odds. Ritchie has only slightly longer odds than the resurgent Jake DeBrusk, who has scored in both games thus far for Boston, and is listed +270 odds at the New Jersey sports books.

BET ON BOSTON BRUINS TO WIN

Game 4 (Boston Bruins lead 2-1)

May 21, 6:30 p.m., TD Garden

Ilya Samsonov went behind his net to set up the puck for his defenseman in the second overtime. Unfortunately for him, Craig Smith skated in and stole the puck then tucked it around the post to give the Boston Bruins a double-overtime win over the Washington Capitals in Game 3. The Bruins now lead the series 2-1 as they won a game in which they did not lead until Smith scored the winning goal. It was the 11th consecutive one-goal game played between the Bruins and Capitals in the NHL playoffs and the fifth straight to require more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.

It would be easy to point to the Samsonov gaffe behind his goal and blame the loss on the goalie, the third one the Capitals have started in three games in this series. However, Samsonov was fantastic in regulation and the first overtime period, stonewalling Boston on some of excellent scoring chances over the first 80 minutes. He stopped 40 of the first 42 shots he faced before Smith snuck the puck into the net because Samsonov was late getting back to the near post from behind the net. Washington also blocked 20 shots in the loss and really lost most of the momentum once it took a 2-1 lead late in the second period. The other issue for Washington was a lackluster power play that managed six shots on five chances on the man advantage and also allowing four shorthanded shots to Boston, one of the most dangerous offensive teams while shorthanded. The Capitals need to win the special teams battle in order to claw back into this series because Washington is only capitalizing on Boston mistakes through three games and not really creating its own chances.

What makes Boston such a difficult team to play against is how well everyone plays their role no matter the score. The Bruins’ top-six forwards created a lot of offensive chances, combining for 26 of Boston’s 43 shots in the game and scoring all three goals in the victory. The fourth line provided a spark of energy with 17 of Boston’s 60 hits in the game, including a team-high seven from Sean Kuraly and six from Curtis Lazar. The defensemen know when to be aggressive and join the rush and when to be a little more conservative, all while still dishing out a fair share of physical punishment as well. The trouble Boston has run into is being too aggressive in the physicality and putting Washington’s dangerous power play on the ice. The Capitals have scored a power-play goal in each of the last two games, taking advantage of the Bruins putting them on the man advantage so often. Boston might have had the second-best penalty kill in the NHL this season, but Washington ranked third on the power play and fifth in penalty kill, so the Bruins cannot afford to get into a special teams battle with the Capitals.

Let’s get this out of the way at the top of this section: the top sports betting sites in New Jersey posted +320 odds on a fourth straight overtime game between these two teams. At this point, it doesn’t hurt to add this bet to your repertoire for this series because it seems like destiny for these two teams to require more than 60 minutes to decide a winner. I’d also keep an eye on betting Taylor Hall to score again because he seems to be in the habit of scoring big goals for the Bruins in this series. The top hockey sites in New Jersey are still offering +200 odds on Hall scoring a goal, keeping him outside that upper echelon of the other elite offensive talents in this series. I’m going back to picking Boston at -164 odds on the moneyline. because of the situation playing out in the Capitals’ net. Samsonov played extremely well in Game 3 until his gaffe at the end, but I question if he can be consistent in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

BET ON BOSTON BRUINS TO WIN

Game 5 (Boston Bruins lead 3-1)

May 23, 7 p.m., Capital One Arena

It felt like it was inevitable that the Boston Bruins were going to have a game like it had Friday in Game 4. For much of Game 3 on Wednesday, Boston was the better team but a few mistakes helped keep the Washington Capitals in the game. There were no free opportunities from Boston in Game 4 as the Bruins suffocated the Capitals at even strength and made life difficult for Washington when the Capitals were on the power play. The result was a dominant Bruins win that left them one win from advancing to the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and left the Capitals doing some soul searching after a listless performance.

The good news for Washington is that Ilya Samsonov clearly bounced back well from his game-ending gaffe in Game 3, and was the Capitals’ best player on the night. He made several critical saves to keep Boston off the scoreboard for the first 28 minutes and limited the Bruins to just one goal in the first 40. However, there was no hiding the lack of fight and energy from the Capitals in every other facet of the game, and how much they seemed demoralized by the Bruins defense. Even though Boston gave Washington seven chances on the power play, the Capitals managed just six shots on those man advantages, and the one that went in caromed off the skate of a defender. Washington’s power play is too predictable and you could see Boston waiting for the Capitals to inevitably move the puck to Alex Ovechkin, who barely moved the entire time on the ice. The Bruins were prepared every time Ovechkin was setting up to shoot and were willing to take the shot to the body every time, accounting for a good chunk of the 17 blocked shots Boston had in the game. Overall, the Capitals put just 20 shots on goal, and had 14 shots at even strength, which is simply not good enough to win in the NHL playoffs.

Boston was buzzing for all 60 minutes of Game 4, though you might not think that when the Bruins led just 1-0 at the second intermission. Yet the Bruins scored twice in the first 63 seconds of the third period, including a much-needed goal from David Pastrnak, and it was simply a matter of snuffing out the Capitals’ desire for the final 19 minutes. Boston peppered Samsonov with 37 shots through the 60 minutes with the top-two lines in particular creating dangerous opportunities consistently. Defensively, the Bruins stayed consistently excellent even after Kevan Miller left the game due to injury after a high hit from Dmitry Orlov in the second period. One of the main reasons Boston was so good in the two home games is Bruce Cassidy’s use of the last change, and the Bruins will need to continue their strong defense Sunday when Washington has the final change and can play the matchups that better suit it.

Miller’s injury didn’t hurt the Bruins during the game, but it certainly leaves a hole for Boston to fill Sunday. Boston has two different fill-in options and neither can really match the toughness and physicality Miller provided to the lineup. Washington was already going to be angry and empty the tank in an elimination game at home, and now there is less muscle out there to deter the Capitals from being physical with Boston’s top players. The Bruins are going to need to be more disciplined and not take bad penalties that could give the Capitals life in the game. Even though Boston had the best penalty kill in the NHL during the regular season, it cannot keep tempting fate by giving one of the league’s best power plays more chances. Ultimately, I think the Capitals are too good of a team to lose four straight to Boston, so I’m going to bet on Washington to win in regulation at +185 odds from the top sports betting sites in New Jersey. It’s going to be another one-goal game because it’s Washington and Boston, but given how well both goalies have been playing, I’ll wager on under 4.5 total goals for +220 odds from the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey.

BET ON WASHINGTON CAPITALS TO WIN

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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