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Familiarity breeds contempt

Posted by Danny Picard March 5, 2009 05:54 AM

The games are played for a reason. Regular-season records go out the window come playoff time, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to the Capitals, who defeated the Bruins, 4-3, in overtime on Feb. 28 at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Washington entered the week tied with New Jersey for second place in the Eastern Conference at 85 points, eight behind the first-place Bruins. Unless the fourth-place Flyers (76) or fifth-place Canadiens (75) make an unlikely run in the final 1½ months of the regular season, the only way the Capitals and Bruins will meet again this season is if both advance to the conference finals.

In the 16-team NHL postseason, the highest remaining seed always plays the lowest seed in each eight-team conference pool. But the Bruins know that regardless of the seeding and regular-season splits, every team starts the playoffs 0-0.

That’s apparently news to the Capitals, who won three of their four regular-season games against the Bruins. A day before their final game of the season against Boston, several Capitals players told the Washington Post about the importance of winning the regular-season series.

“I know for myself, when you play a team in the playoffs, and you look back at [the regular season] and see you only got a point out of them and had a tough time playing against them, that gives an edge for that team,” said Washington goaltender Jose Theodore.

“If we win, now we’re 3-0-1 against them for the season,” said Capitals forward Brooks Laich. “Maybe they finish ahead of us, maybe they don’t. But now they’re wondering, you know, ‘We can’t beat those guys.’ ”

The Capitals won the game on a neutral-zone dump-in by Alexander Semin that trickled past Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas just 22 seconds into the five-minute overtime, making Washington’s regular-season record against Boston 3-0-1.

After the game, coach Claude Julien reminded everyone that the Bruins’ playoff fate won’t be affected by regular-season results.

“We’re two of the top teams in our conference, and I’ve heard them say that they’re in our heads,” said Julien. “They do a lot of talking. And they obviously don’t do a lot of research, because as I mentioned, I don’t think that really rattled us last year against Montreal when it came time for playoff games. It’s a totally different thing.”

Julien was referring to the Bruins’ forcing a seventh game against the top-seeded Canadiens in the first round of the 2008 playoffs despite having lost all eight regular-season games to Montreal. If the results of a regular-season series shadow the losing team come playoff time, it didn’t show last season. He doesn’t believe it will this year, either.

“[The games against Washington] were one-goal games and could have gone either way, so if anything, it’s two good teams going at each other,” said Julien. “But by all means, I don’t think they scare us to that point.”

And the Capitals shouldn’t have as much confidence as the Canadiens did last year, because for what it’s worth, the Bruins do have one regular-season win over Washington. On Jan. 27, in the first game after the All-Star break, the Bruins beat Washington, 3-2, in overtime.

With or without that win, this season marks the second time ever that Washington has defeated Boston three times in the regular season. The last time it happened was in 1982-83. That year, the Bruins advanced further in the playoffs than the Capitals.

Washington is a highly skilled team with depth at all positions. The best player in the world, Alex Ovechkin, could very well lead his team to a Stanley Cup this season. But even if he does, his regular-season stats won’t dictate his playoff success or failure. Which is why the Bruins aren’t panicking.

“We don’t change our approach,” said Julien. “Every team has their own approach, and ours is, think about the game you’ve got to play, play it well, and let those other things take care of themselves. We don’t really take the same approach as some of the other teams do. We do less talking, and we hope that we can do more doing on the ice.”

Danny Picard covers the Bruins for OT and can be reached at dpicard@globe.com

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