BOSTON -- The defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins are statistically superior to the Washington Capitals in every category entering into their first round match-up.
But the inherent advantages haven't stopped the No. 2 seed from approaching the dangerous Caps with caution.
It's the same respectful, one-game-at-a-time approach that served the Bruins so well during their successful run a year ago and one they'll embrace when the series begins Thursday night at TD Garden.
"What did we say over and over and over last year? You take it one game at a time, one period at a time, and one shift at a time," said Bruins netminder Tim Thomas, who was deemed the most valuable playoff performer above all others last season.
"It sounds cliché. But if we want a chance to do it again, that's how we have to prepare.
"You don't look at it like you need to win the Cup. You focus on the now and each individual game.
"We did a great job of breaking it down with that attitude, especially as the playoffs went on last year. That's what helped us get through it."
The Bruins will be without Nathan Horton, who is out for the playoffs with a concussion that's kept him out since Jan. 22, and both Tuukka Rask (groin) and Adam McQuaid (upper body) will be out for the first game as well.
Washington fought its way into the bottom rung of the Eastern Conference playoff picture carried by a red-hot Alex Ovechkin, who potted 11 goals in his final 13 regular-season games.
Ovechkin is the single biggest, game-changing force among position players in the series and the Washington players should be fighting with feverish desperation.
After a lacklustre regular-season performance, a playoff stumble could mean significant off-season changes for a Capitals team that has confounded many with their underachievement over the last five years.
But the Capitals are no finesse team.
Dale Hunter's crew is intent on proving it with blue-collar grit players like Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera, Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich. They won't get into a slugfest with the Big Bad Bruins, but they won't back down either.
"They've got some big bodies over there, guys that really know how to use their size to their advantage," said Hendricks. "I don't know if we're going to be able to match up 1-on-1 with everybody they've got.
"But collectively, as a team, if we focus on being physical and finish our checks, we'll be able to battle with these guys."
The one area the series could finally turn on: a lopsided goaltending matchup between the second goalie in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup, Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe in the same season and a 22-year-old kid from Saskatchewan with 21 games of NHL experience.
Tim Thomas versus Braden Holtby doesn't look like a goaltending duel for the ages on paper, but that's why they play the games.
"We have to be willing to put in the work that needs to be done on our offensive side," Thomas said. "I know that it looks like, at this point, they're going to have a young goalie playing.
"But that doesn't mean anything. You can't take [it] for granted.
"Sometimes, those kids can stand on their heads in those situations for a number of reasons. But one of them is that they never expected to be there, so they don't have that mental pressure."
The mental pressure begins for both teams with the drop of the puck Thursday night.
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