The first-round series between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals figures to be one of the most physical matchups of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
These teams love to play the game with plenty of truculence, and there are many players on both rosters who try to set a physical tone each night.
One of those players is Capitals forward Tom Wilson.
Wilson has become a household name among NHL and even casual sports fans for his physical play. He’s certainly capable of being an effective power forward, and he scored 20-plus goals in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
But Wilson’s physical play often goes over the line. He’s been suspended five times in his career, and his latest ban came in March after he boarded Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo with a high hit. Wilson was suspended seven games as a result.
He probably should’ve been suspended last week after his antics against the New York Rangers, which sparked a line brawl in the following game.
How should the Bruins deal with Wilson in their first-round series that begins Saturday night in Washington?
“He’s not flying under the radar from our perspective, everyone knows what kind of player he is,” Bruins president Cam Neely said Wednesday on a Zoom call with reporters. “He plays hard and he’ll take the body. We have to expect that, I don’t think that’s going to change.
“We also need to focus on how we need to play and what we need to do to be successful. We have to be smart. More importantly, we’ve got to be careful with their power play. We’ve got to try to stay out of the box as much as possible.”
The Bruins are a better 5-on-5 team than the Capitals after their trade deadlines moves to acquire Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly. Where the series could slip away from the Bruins is if the Capitals are constantly on the power play.
Washington’s power-play scored at a 24.8 percent rate this season, which ranked third-best in the league. Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are still elite power-play scorers and a nightmare to defend, even for a Bruins team that had the second-best penalty kill at 86 percent.
Wilson loves to get under his opponents’ skin, and he will no doubt try to do that throughout this series. If the Bruins are able to control their emotion and not take stupid penalties, they will have a good chance to win this series.