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A Bruins-centric guide to the NHL playoffs: Schedule, how to watch, and storylines to follow

Old friend Zdeno Chara (left) will face off against his former teammates, including Patrice Bergeron (right) in the first round.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

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They may be starting a little bit later than we’re used to, but the Stanley Cup playoffs are finally upon us.

The Bruins will open the postseason Saturday night at the Washington Capitals. They looked like a bubble team entering the final month of the season, but a pair of deals ahead of the trade deadline provided a spark. The Bruins went 11-4-1 after acquiring forwards Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from Buffalo, and defenseman Mike Reilly from Ottawa. With their playoff spot secured, the Bruins rested the veterans for the season finale at Washington, and nearly came away with the win.

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They should be set between the pipes. Goalie Tuukka Rask missed significant time in March and April while dealing with an upper body injury before returning to action April 15 and going 7-2 down the stretch. Jeremy Swayman made his NHL debut, going 7-3 and posting a 1.50 goals against average and .945 save percentage to earn a spot on the postseason roster as Rask’s backup.

Offensively, Brad Marchand led the Bruins this season with 69 points (29 goals, 40 assists), followed by linemates Patrice Bergeron (23 goals, 25 assists) and David Pastrnak (20 goals, 28 assists). Hall has provided some punch to the second line with David Krejci and Craig Smith, scoring eight goals with six assists in 16 games. Nick Ritchie played in all 56 games and had a career-high 15 goals.

Charlie McAvoy is anchoring the Bruins defense, paired with Matt Grzelcyk. Injuries limited Brandon Carlo to 27 games this year, but he’s cleared for the playoffs, skating with Reilly as the second pairing. Kevan Miller, out the last two trips to the postseason with a knee injury, is back skating on the third pairing with Jeremy Lauzon.

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What is the NHL playoff format?

Things are going to look a little different this year. Blame the pandemic.

No, there will not be a bubble like last season. But the NHL realigned the teams at the beginning of the season into four divisions: North, West, Central, and East. The top four teams in each division qualified for the playoffs, with each round a best-of-seven.

The first two rounds will be intradivisional. In the first round, the first-place team plays the fourth-place team and the second-place team faces the third-place team, with the winners of each series battling it out in the second round.

The four teams (one from each division) that advance to the semifinals will be seeded by their points total in the regular season.

The Bruins played this past season in the East, so there will be no-opening round series against the Maple Leafs like in 2018 and 2019. Nor will they have to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round, as was the case in 2018 and 2020.

All seven teams from Canada were placed in the North Division. The start of their playoff series will be delayed as the Vancouver Canucks continue to make up postponed games from a COVID-19 break.

What is the Bruins-Capitals playoff schedule?

Game 1: Saturday at Washington, 7:15 p.m. (NBC)

Game 2: Monday at Washington, 7:30 p.m. (NESN, NBCSN)

Game 3: Wednesday at Boston, 6:30 p.m. (NESN, NBCSN)

Game 4: Friday, May 21, at Boston, 6:30 p.m. (NESN, NBCSN)

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Game 5: Sunday, May 23, at Washington TBD

Game 6: Tuesday, May 25, at Boston, TBD

Game 7: Thursday, May 27, at Washington TBD

What did the Bruins do against the Capitals this season?

The Bruins went 4-2-2 against Washington. Here’s a recap:

Jan. 30, Capitals 4, Bruins 3 (OT): The Bruins rallied from a three-goal, third-period deficit to pull even, but Alex Ovechkin’s score 28 seconds into the extra session gave Washington the win at Capital One Arena.

Feb. 1, Bruins 5, Capitals 3: The Bruins again fell into a 3-0 hole, but rallied for the win with four goals in the third period.

March 3, Capitals 2, Bruins 1 (SO): The Capitals got the shootout win in Zdeno Chara’s return to TD Garden.

March 5, Bruins 5, Capitals 1: The Bruins responded after Tom Wilson’s cheap shot on Carlo, with both Jarred Tinordi and Trent Frederic getting in separate fights with the Washington forward. Bergeron and Marchand recorded three points each in the win.

April 8, Bruins 4, Capitals 2: Making his second start, Swayman had 31 saves to get the win on the road.

April 11, Capitals 8, Bruins 1: Working with a patchwork defense, the Bruins were pounded at home. But reinforcements were on the way with the acquisitions of Hall, Lazar, and Reilly later that night.

April 18, Bruins 6, Capitals 3: With a revamped roster, the Bruins extended their winning streak to four games in a physical matchup at home.

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May 11, Capitals 2, Bruins 1: Michael Raffi shot from an impossible angle with three seconds left in regulation snuck past Swayman, but the young goalie received good news after the game when he was informed he’d be on the postseason roster as Rask’s backup.

NHL playoff storylines to watch

▪ The Penguins finished first in the East and will face the New York Islanders in the other divisional matchup. Pittsburgh has not been able to get out of the first round in each of the last two years, while the Islanders rolled to the Eastern Conference finals last year before losing to Tampa Bay.

▪ A Canadian team has not won the Stanley Cup since 1993, and has not reached the final since 2011 when the Canucks lost to the Bruins in seven games. This year’s format guarantees a Canadian team will reach the semifinals.

▪ The North Division will not get started until May 19, when the Jets head to Edmonton for Game 1 against the Oilers. Connor McDavid, selected by the Oilers as the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft and considered by many to be the top player in the league, has advanced past the the first round just once.

▪ The Maple Leafs and Canadiens will begin their first series in 42 years on May 20 at Toronto. Can Joe Thornton lead Toronto out of the first round?

▪ In the Central Division, the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning will open up on the road, taking on the Florida Panthers starting Sunday.

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▪ Health is a question mark for Tampa Bay. Nikita Kucherov, who led the NHL with 34 points in last year’s playoffs, missed the regular season after having hip surgery Dec. 29. He has been practicing and is expected to be back for the playoffs, as is Steven Stamkos, who missed the final 16 games of the season with a lower-body injury.

▪ Carolina, which finished in first place, will host Nashville starting Monday. The Hurricanes need to settle on a goalie. Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic, and James Reimer all played well this season. The Predators will go with Juuse Saros, but should he falter they can always turn to veteran Pekka Rinne.

▪ In the West, the Colorado Avalanche squeaked past the Vegas Golden Knights to win the No. 1 seed and the Presidents’ Trophy. The Avalanche have a talented young group. Former UMass star Cale Makar had a stellar season and is a Norris Trophy candidate. Nathan MacKinnon, the 2013 No. 1 overall pick, missed the final two games of the regular season with an undisclosed injury but is expected to be back for the playoff opener against St. Louis.

▪ The Golden Knights have had several deep runs, making the Stanley Cup Final in 2018 and the Western Conference finals in 2020. They will open the playoffs by hosting the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.

Here is the playoff schedule.


Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.