It is not the matchup that was expected for most of February and March, but now, in April, its is the Capitals, not the Senators, who will take the ice Thursday night at TD Garden and make the first challenge to the Bruins' Stanley Cup throne.

 

It's an unexpected showdown, but also an intriguing one, as the Capitals came on strong at the finish to claim the No. 7 seed. Here are three keys to the series, which promises to be a long one.



Ovechkin vs. Chara


This is one of the marquee individual matchups in the first round, and one the Bruins have totally dominated. In his past seven games against the Bruins, Ovechkin, who led the Caps in goals (38) and points (65) this season, has just one goal, as the 6-foot-9 Chara has simply smothered the playmaker.

"Obviously they have a few great players on their team and sometimes the matchups are hard to get," Chara said. "Especially on the road, but when you do get them, you want to make the best out of them."

 

Bruins special teams

Amazingly, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last season despite getting virtually no production on the man advantage. That doesn't figure to be a problem this series, as the Capitals are among the worst teams in the league defending the power play in general (81.6 percent, 21st), and even more so on the road, where their kill percentage is below 80 percent. But they did kill seven of eight power play chances against the Bruins during the regular season, so maybe the drought of '11 isn't completely in the past.

 

On the other side, the Bruins were fourth-best when defending the five-on-four, but allowed a league-high eight goals in five-on-three disadvantages. So staying out of the box - and the Caps drew the fourth-fewest penalties this season - is an obvious point of emphasis.

 

Thomas, Take II

Tim Thomas was sublimely brilliant in 2011, and as is so often the case in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Bruins will only go as far as their goalie can take them. By wrapping up the No. 2 seed on the early side, the Bruins were finally able to give Thomas much-needed rest. While Thomas dominated Ottawa this season in the win column (4-1), he actually had better save numbers against the Caps, with a .921 save percentage and 2.28 goals-against average, even if only one of his three games resulted in a win.