Loss of Leads, Game – For the first two games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins, few mistakes were made on both sides, resulting in a pair of tightly played overtime games that featured few goals and one win for each team.
Having wrested home ice away from the Bruins in Saturday’s 2-1 double-overtime win over the B’s in Boston, the Caps had a chance to assert themselves in the series in Game 3. But they also knew the offensively frustrated Bruins would come at them harder and try to establish a greater net-front presence.
Boston’s improved net-front presence – and Washington’s mistakes – were a factor as the Bruins skated off with a 4-3 win to take a 2-1 series lead on Monday night at Verizon Center.
Reading between the lines of the Game 2 postgame rhetoric and the Sunday off-day quotes emanating from the Boston locker room, the Caps knew they’d be in for increased physicality from the Bruins and to expect Boston to be a collective handful down low in the Washington zone.
Interestingly, that increased net presence did not result in goals from Boston’s top six forwards. Fourth-line winger Daniel Paille and third-liner Brian Rolston were the diligent Bruins who scored in those situations, benefiting from time and space down low and rebound opportunities.
“At some point when you want to go to the front to the net,” says Bruins coach Claude Julien, “and you’ve got too many guys and all it is is a cluster in front of the net then the chances of getting pucks through are a little tougher. We just had to make sure we had a good net-front presence there and if we couldn’t get shots through we had to have some of their outlets and we just did a better job of it tonight versus the first two games.”
Boston’s top six forwards have accounted for a goal from Rich Peverley and an assist from Patrice Bergeron. The only one of Boston’s six 20-goal scorers to find the back of the net thus far in this series has been Chris Kelly, who supplied the lone tally in Boston’s 1-0 Game 1 win.
Washington has silenced Boston’s big guns and its power play, but the Capitals are still down 2-1 in the series. That’s not a good omen.
Washington led twice, but was unable to protect either lead. The Bruins took their first lead of the series early in the third, but the Caps rallied to draw even with exactly six minutes left on a brilliant Brooks Laich goal.
A third overtime game seemed to be in the offing, but there were several twists in the waning minutes of regulation.
Caps center Nicklas Backstrom was whistled for an offensive-zone cross-checking call on Boston’s Brad Marchand with 3:14 remaining, putting the Bruins on the power play. Some 48 seconds after that, a scrum ensued in front of the Washington net, with Boston’s Milan Lucic incurring a double-minor for roughing and the Caps’ Matt Hendricks heading off with him for roughing.
The net result was another four-on-four situation. Just 33 seconds after Lucic and Hendricks were seated, Boston blueliner Zdeno Chara fired a shot toward the Washington net. The puck clicked off the stick of Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik and went past Washington netminder Braden Holtby for what proved to be the game-winning tally at 18:07 of the third.
When Backstrom came out of the box, the Caps had 48 seconds of power play time with which to work, and they also pulled Holtby for a sixth attacker. But the Bruins and Thomas held the fort, taking the game and a 2-1 lead in the series.
At the final buzzer, Backstrom brought his stick up high on Peverley, a reaction to the Boston forward having taken a slash at Caps captain Alex Ovechkin as the latter was skating away. Backstrom was assessed a match penalty for his action, and unless the league opts to rescind it, he is in danger of missing Thursday’s Game 4 because of suspension.
“They gave him a match [penalty],” says Caps coach Dale Hunter, “but I think the league will review it and rescind it,”
According to the official scoresheet, the Bruins outhit the Caps 58-36. There were some scrums and skirmishes after the whistle, which is to be expected as a series wears on. But the Caps got caught up in too much of the extracurricular activity, which did them no favors.
In the end, the deciding goal came on an unfortunate deflection, but the Capitals made too many mistakes to expect a win in this one.
Two of Boston’s goals came on rebounds where the coverage in front wasn’t good enough, and another – Boston’s first of the night from Peverley – trickled in off Holtby’s glove hand.
“First goal, that’s one I’d like to have,” rues Holtby. “It’s a good shot, well placed, but one that I think my capabilities can stop. The last goal, that’s just a tough break.”
Washington couldn’t keep two leads, and Thomas outplayed Holtby, making crucial saves on Jay Beagle late in the second and Mike Green in the third.
“It’s tough,” says Ovechkin. “It’s nothing to lose. Series is not ended. Somebody has to win, somebody has to lose and unfortunately we lost and we are looking forward to the next game. I think we played great today, but we made a couple of mistakes and it cost us a goal. It was a great battle.”
Chippy – A series that had been relatively tame – at least as far as the penalties that were actually called – in the first two games took a chippy turn in Game 3. Sixteen penalties were whistled, including Backstrom’s match penalty at the 20-minute mark of the third.
Six calls were for roughing; five of those were assessed to Boston. The Caps incurred two cross-checking minors – both to Backstrom – and a slashing minor. Each team was also given an unsportsmanlike conduct minor.
Lucic earned three of the Boston roughing minors and the unsportsmanlike conduct call; he took Laich with him to the box on the latter minor.
“It was a rough game, there especially in the third period,” says Hunter. “They tried to get some of our skilled players off their game but the guys battled back.”
Four-On-Four – A total of 6:27 of Monday’s Game 3 was played with the two sides skating with four players a side. Boston scored twice in such situations, the Caps once.
During the regular season, Washington scored 13 four-on-four goals, most in the NHL. The Bruins scored eight, tied for ninth in the circuit.
The other side of that coin is this: the Capitals allowed nine four-on-four goals during the regular season, tied for fifth most in the NHL. Boston allowed just three four-on-four goals during the regular season, tied for second fewest in the league.
Boston’s power play has been silent thus far in the series, but playing four-on-four hockey does not benefit Washington at all against the B’s. The Caps dismissed tonight’s two four-on-four goals against as flukes, and that’s valid. But Washington hasn’t been very good away from the puck in four-on-four play this season.
Tie-Breaker – Ovechkin’s second-period goal came just 13 seconds after Boston had tied the game at 1-1. It was Ovechkin’s 26th career Stanley Cup playoff tally, putting him one ahead of Hunter for second place on Washington’s all-time list. Peter Bondra leads with 30.
First Things First –Alexander Semin’s power play goal at the 16-minute mark of the first period was the first goal scored in the first period of this series. It was also the first special teams goal scored by either team in this series.
For Semin, Monday’s power play goal ended a 31-game playoff drought without a power play tally. His last previous power play strike came on April 15, 2009 against the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series that spring.
Semin had just two power play goals in 77 games during the 2011-12 regular season, the last of which was scored on Feb. 9 against Winnipeg.
Bad Math – In its Stanley Cup playoff history, Boston is 19-6 when leading a best-of-seven series two games to one. The Bruins are 8-22 in best-of-seven sets when trailing a series 1-2.
Game 3 Blues – The Capitals are now 12-23 all-time in Game 3. They are 3-11 all-time in Game 3 on home ice and 8-12 in Game 3 when the series is tied 1-1 going into Game 3.
Looking ahead, the Caps are 4-7 in Game 4 when trailing the series 1-2 going in.
By The Numbers – Laich had the first three-point game (goal, two assists) of his career in the playoffs … Hamrlik played in the 100th playoff game of his NHL career … Mike Green led the Caps with 26:35 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with six shots on net … Hendricks paced the Caps with six hits in just 10:50 of ice time … Seventeen of Boston’s 18 skaters recorded at least one hit, with only defenseman Greg Zanon abstaining … Lucic led the B’s with eight hits, Chara had seven (after having none in Game 2) and Gregory Campbell had six in just 11:29 of work.