One thing that helps, of course, is the fact that Boston is without the underrated Nathan Horton, arguably their most well-rounded forward. He's cracked 30 goals once before. But let's match up (healthy) top-player for top-player here:
Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci vs. Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Semin
|Remember, Russians disappear in the playoffs. Wait...|
Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, and Andrew Ferrence vs. Mike Green, Roman Hamrlik, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner
|He actually forgot to start his playoff|
beard until Monday morning. It made him sad.
Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and Rich Peverly vs. Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, and Troy Brouwer
|Marchand, seen here, avoiding John Carlson's explosive sneeze|
Tim Thomas et al. vs. ???
Right now, it's Braden Holtby. Before, it was Vokoun or Neuvirth. The fact remains is that Boston's goaltending probably wins out against the Caps. But Holtby has proven himself to be Thomas' equal through three games. Vokoun is out. Neuvirth is absolutely the worst of the three, and it would be a travesty if he starts a game in the playoffs, regardless of how far the Caps go. I don't care if nobody else listens to me, but Neuvirth is not a starting goalie. He wasn't last year, but they gave him the job anyway. He has been outperformed by every other goalie the Caps have started since Neuvirth played his first NHL game. That's just a fact. You cannot argue with it. You can argue about team play, about who "earned" a win, about who the team trusts, about sustainability, bad bounces, what have you. But you cannot argue that Neuvirth has outplayed Vokoun, Holtby, Varlamov, or even Theodore. Oh yeah, Thomas vs. these guys? Thomas wins it, unfortunately.
And then the rest...
Boston's supporting cast of bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defensemen features luminaries such as Gregory Campbell, Joe "Oh-No" Corvo, Benoit (balls) Pouliout, and resident "Holy crap he's still playing?!" player Brian Rolston (filling in for Mark Recchi). Many of the Caps' "bottom six" forwards routinely fill in on the top two lines, including veteran Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera and Mathieu "Remember that time I scored a hat trick against Boston when Ovi and Backstrom were out and then skated under five minutes in Game Three because I blew an assignment one time and my asshat coach decided that was worth over-shifting the rest of the team?" Perreault. And their "bottom pair" defensemen? That'd be Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz, with a healthy dose of rookie Dmitri Orlov on the side(lines). Oh, right, Wideman and Schultz have routinely played top-pair minutes this season and in the past. In terms of roster depth, I think it is more than fair to say that the Caps have the Bruins pretty well owned.
So what's the problem?
|Hint: it's something in this picture|
The Caps are the better team. But as long as Hunter continues to make horrible decisions in terms of personnel and ice-time management, they don't have a chance. Unless Beagle and Aucoin are replaced with their veteran, skilled counterparts, unless Perreault and Ward are freed up to do what they can do best, unless Schultz (who I still like, just not in this series) is replaced with Orlov (who is infinitely more skilled as a rookie than Erskine can ever hope to be), the Capitals will lose this series. They will probably lose Game Four. But if the best players are put out there, then despite all of Hunter's other bad decisions, the Caps can and should win this series. They have the better players.