NHL Playoffs 2012: Bruins Face Off Against Capitals In Opening Round

March 29, 2012; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) takes a shot on Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas (30) during the overtime period at TD Banknorth Garden. Washington won 3-2 in a shoot-out. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

They're back and just as hungry as last year. Tim Thomas and the Boston Bruins will face Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which begins Thursday night in Boston.

The Boston Bruins begin their Stanley Cup title defense against the Washington Capitals after capturing another Northeast Division title and claiming the Eastern Conference's second seed. The matchup pits Boston against a Washington team laced with offensive firepower, but one that struggled throughout the season to generate consistency and rhythm.

The Capitals earned the regular-season series victory over Boston, taking three of four outings, although the Bruins remain the favorites coming into this one with strong play of late.

Tim Thomas will look to channel his 2011 self in an attempt to once again carry the Bruins to Stanley Cup glory. That path begins by neutralizing Washington's star Alex Ovechkin, a devastating threat with the puck on his stick. He's joined by Alexander Semin and a host of other talented playmakers for the Capitals.

Boston coach Claude Julien will likely tab captain Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg as his top blue line pair, and expect them to play extended minutes throughout the playoffs. They'll likely be called upon to match up with Ovechkin's line, which is centered by Brooks Laich and rounded out with Troy Brouwer.

Bruins winger Nathan Horton (concussion) remains a long-shot to return to the ice this season, and Boston has a few health question marks heading into the postseason. Defenseman Adam McQuaid missed practice on Monday, and it is unclear as to how much - if any - more preparation he will be withheld from.

Although Thomas is likely to see every start, back-up goalkeeper Tuuka Rask is worth monitoring throughout the week as he works his way back from a groin/ab strain suffered on March 3. His return would ensure that the B's have a safety net in goal for Thomas.

The series will begin on Thursday night in Boston, with the puck set to drop at 7:30 p.m. EST.

For everything Bruins related, check out Stanley Cup Of Chowder. For more news, analysis, and discussion on Capitals hockey, head to Japers' Rink. You can also head over to the SB Nation NHL hub page for more on hockey news as the playoffs begin.

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