Another White Knuckler – We’re now four games into this riveting Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins, and the set is all square at two games apiece.
With goals from Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin, and a 44-save performance from Braden Holtby in the nets, the Caps eked out a 2-1 win in Game 4 at Verizon Center on Thursday night.
“[The Bruins] came out real hard tonight,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “[Their] forecheck was hard and we turned the puck over a few times. Holtby was very good. He stood tall and kicked out a lot of rubber tonight.”
Holtby faced at least 13 shots in every period, and saw 10 consecutive shots after Johansson scored on the game’s first shot by either team at the 1:22 mark.
Washington blocked a total of 26 shots on the night, including a dozen in the third period.
“The guys are committed,” says Hunter. “That puck hurts and [the Bruins] have a guy in [Zdeno] Chara who shoots it over a hundred miles an hour. They’re going down and blocking shots. They’ve got a lot of character in that room and they care about winning and losing, like blocking the shots. The ones that did get through, Holtby stood strong.”
This series is every bit as tight as indicated. Each of the four games has been decided by a single goal. Each of the two teams has scored a total of seven goals. Half of that goal total came in Boston’s 4-3 win in Game 3.
The Caps and Bruins have battled for 264 minutes and 14 seconds in the four games, and the score has been tied for 188 minutes and 35 seconds of that time, which is about 71.4% of the entire series.
Neither team has owned a lead of more than a single goal at any time.
The Capitals led for 33:07 of Game 4, including the final 21:17, which represents the longest continuous span either club has been in front in the series. Washington’s 33:07 of lead time tonight accounts for more than half of its total lead time of 60:48 in the series.
Boston has led for a combined total of 14:51 in the four games, with all of that lead time coming in Game 3.
Washington played Game 4 without center Nicklas Backstrom, who was suspended for a game for his cross-check to the visor of Boston forward Rich Peverley at the final buzzer of Game 3. The Caps will get Backstrom back for Game 5 on Saturday afternoon in Boston.
Time Stands Still – With 9.5 seconds left on the game clock, Holtby froze the puck for the first stoppage in more than five minutes, since 5:16 remained in the third.
The Bruins called their timeout at that point, and then Boston’s Patrice Bergeron bested Laich in a draw to Holtby’s left. A bit of chaos ensued as the Bruins tried to move the puck around for a last bid or two at tying the game.
If those nine-plus seconds seemed to take longer than that, it’s because they did. After the game ended, the NHL released a statement that explained the situation in detail:
"With 9.5 seconds remaining in the third period, there was a stoppage and resulting face-off in the Washington zone. During the stoppage, the game clock operator and Series Manager determined that 0.9 seconds should have been added to the time remaining in the third period and attempted to contact the on-ice officials to delay the puck drop to accommodate making the necessary clock adjustment to 10.4 seconds remaining.
"The off-ice officials were not able to attract the attention of the referees or linesmen despite sounding the horn, which was not audible due to crowd noise, and the puck was dropped.
"The NHL Situation Room in Toronto immediately was aware that the clock had not started for 5.3 seconds after the face-off and, therefore, would have disallowed a goal scored with 5.3 seconds or less showing on the clock."
Fortunately, the point was moot. Jay Beagle and John Carlson laid out to block shots from Boston blueliner Johnny Boychuk and the clock wound down without incident.
Standing Tall – Four games into the series, the 22-year-old Holtby has more than held his own in the Washington nets. His .953 save pct. is second best among all goalies in the playoffs and his 1.60 GAA is tied for third best.
Rich Peverley supplied the lone Boston goal tonight, becoming the first Bruin to beat Holtby twice in the four games of the series. Peverley scored on a 3-on-1 Boston rush, but knows he could have made the save. Holtby opened his five-hole, and Peverley exploited it.
“That first goal was one I know I can have, I know I can stop,” says Holtby. “My goal going into the second period – especially after that goal – was to make sure I’m giving myself the right chance to make saves and to be more patient.
“I wasn’t patient on the first goal. That’s one of the things I’ve just learned over the years; realize what you did wrong, try to fix it and you’re done with it. You’re moving on.”
Short Bench – Hunter played Caps captain for a total of just 1:58 on four shifts in the game’s third period. Ovechkin’s third-period ice time total was the lowest of any of Washington’s 12 forwards.
Troy Brouwer led Washington forwards with 8:00 in third-period ice time while Karl Alzner paced the defensemen at 10:17. Mike Green’s third-period total of 3:44 was the lowest among the six Capitals defensemen.
Rarity – Tonight’s game was the 43rd home playoff contest Washington has played in its second home on F St. The Capitals have scored two or fewer goals in 25 of those 43 games played at Verizon Center.
With tonight’s win, they’ve raised their record to 5-20 in those games in which they’ve scored two or fewer goals. Three of those five victories have come in the last five games in which they’ve tallied two or fewer times.
Overall, Washington is now 18-25 in Stanley Cup playoff action at Verizon Center.
Shooting Gallery – The Bruins teed up a total of 83 shots on the night. Forty-five of those went on net, 26 were blocked in front by Washington defenders, and another dozen missed altogether.
The Capitals fired a total of just 44 shots on the night. They got 21 shots on net, had 16 bids blocked and missed seven times.
In the frantic final frame, the Bruins launched a total of 34 shots (13 on net, 12 blocked, nine misses) to a paltry five for Washington (three on net, two blocked).
Boston had its only power play opportunity of the night midway through the third when ex-Bruin Mike Knuble went off for holding at 10:09. During that two-minute man-advantage, Boston had just three shot attempts; two were blocked and one missed the net.
In the 7:51 that remained after Knuble exited the box, the Bruins fired a dozen times. Only four of those shots got on goal, all four from defensemen and none in the game’s final 7:13. Five were blocked and three missed.
Early Thunder – In the first three games of the series, both teams had combined for a total of just one goal in the first period. Johansson scored for the Caps in the first and Peverley notched Boston’s first goal in the first 20 minutes of any of the four games.
Six Pack – Johansson became the sixth different Capital to find the back of the net in the series when he scored on the first shot of the game.
Johansson now has eight career points (three goals, five assists) in 13 career Stanley Cup playoff games. That’s the most playoff points of any player from the NHL’s 2009 Entry Draft class.
Powering Up – Semin became the first Caps player to score twice in this series when he scored on a Washington power play late in the second period. Both of Semin’s goals came on power play, and both those tallies have been the lone special teams tallies in the four games of this series.
His goal in Thursday’s Game 4 was the game-winner, and it was a wrist rocket into a teacup.
“He’s got great skill and he showed it there,” says Hunter. “They worked the puck around, and [the Bruins] left him open for a second. With his wrist shot, it was a laser and right in the corner. It was a great shot and [Boston goaltender Tim] Thomas didn’t have a chance.”
Semin’s Game 3 power play goal ended a 31-game postseason drought without a power play goal. Semin now has five career power play goals in 41 post-season games.
It Takes A Village – With Backstrom out of the lineup, the Caps were without their top left-handed face-off man in the series. Washington still found a way to win 44 of the game’s 76 face-offs (58%).
Laich had his best game on the dot, winning 11 of 20 (55%).
Wingers Jason Chimera (3-for-3), Troy Brouwer (2-for-2) and Joel Ward (1-for-1) combined to win a half-dozen draws without a loss. Keith Aucoin won four of five (80%) draws.
Nine different Capitals took at least one face-off, with Laich taking the most.
“I don’t know what his stats were,” says Laich, “but I didn’t think Matt Hendricks lost a whole lot [he was 6-for-14, 43%]. I thought he did a good job. With that line, you have Jay Beagle who can take them on the right and Matt Hendricks can take them on the left.
“Actually, Jason Chimera won a couple tonight. Joel Ward won a defensive zone draw. You do it by committee. Nicky’s very crafty, very tricky with his stick on the face-offs. If he’s not there, you have other guys who have got to step in here and there.”
Back In The Saddle Again – Veteran Caps defenseman John Erskine was inserted into the lineup for the first time in this series for Game 4, and it was also his first game action since he logged 8:31 in a 3-2 loss to the Rangers on Feb. 12. That contest against the Rangers was the only one in which Erskine had played in since the start of February, a span of 36 games including the playoffs.
“I felt pretty good,” says Erskine. “It took me a few shifts to get into it. But as the game went on, and the more I played I felt better.”
In Thursday’s Game 4, Erskine skated 11:02 on 18 shifts, the most ice time he has seen in a game since he logged 12:36 in a Dec. 30 game against the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center.
He finished the night with three hits, one giveaway and one shot on net.
Involved – With his assist on Johansson’s first period goal, Laich was involved in the scoring of the fourth straight Washington goal of the series (one goal, three assists).
Along with Ovechkin (one goal, three assists), Laich leads Washington in playoff scoring.
Helping Hands – With his primary assist on Semin’s power play tally, Aucoin recorded the first Stanley Cup playoff point of his NHL career.
Aucoin has 82 career points (14 goals, 68 assists) in 83 games worth of AHL Calder Cup playoff action.
Streak Stopped – Tonight’s win halted Washington’s three-game losing streak on home ice in Stanley Cup play. With tonight’s victory, the Capitals have now won 13 of their last 34 playoff games on home ice.
Open Points – Boston’s six blueliners accounted for 19 of the Bruins’ 45 shots on net in Thursday’s game. In the first three games of the series, Bruins defensemen totaled 28 shots, for an average of 9.33 per tilt.
By The Numbers – The Caps outhit Boston 44-34 … Washington committed 14 giveaways to just five for the Bruins … Alzner led the Caps with 23:56 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots … Hendricks led Washington with seven hits … Beagle paced the Caps with five blocked shots.