April 21 vs. Boston Bruins at TD Garden
Time: 3:00 pm TV: NBC Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at noon, John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at noon on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (42-32-8), 92 points
Boston Bruins (49-29-4), 102 points
Game 4, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series (series is even, 2-2)
A week ago, the Caps got a double-overtime goal from center Nicklas Backstrom to earn a 2-1 road win over the Bruins in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the two teams. Backstrom’s goal evened the series at 1-1.
A week later, the teams return to Boston for Saturday’s Game 5 with the series tied once again.
With Backstrom serving an NHL-issued one-game suspension on Thursday, the Caps won Game 4 by a 2-1 count on Thursday, evening the series at 2-2, effectively shrinking it to a best-of-three set. Now the two teams will play twice in as many days, the only one of the NHL’s eight first-round playoff series to feature games on back-to-back dates.
The first three games of the series were spread out over a span of seven days. Games 4-6 will be played in a span of just four nights.
One of the two teams will leave TD Garden on Saturday facing the possibility of the end of its season in Sunday’s Game 6 back at Verizon Center.
Backstrom will be back in the lineup for the Caps on Saturday in Beantown. Having missed 40 games over the final three months of the season because of a concussion, Backstrom is no stranger to sitting and watching games from upstairs. But watching the taut, tension-packed Game 4 from upstairs was different.
“It’s tough to sit out and see the guys and not be able to be with them,” says Backstrom. “But I’m happy that we won the game. Now we’ve got to focus on a big game on Saturday.”
Veteran right wing Mike Knuble got a Game 4 sweater in Backstrom’s stead, stepping into the series for the first time. Although he incurred Washington’s only minor penalty of the game, Knuble turned in a solid performance. He logged 5:28 in ice time in the third period with the game on the line, fifth most among the team’s dozen forwards. And he logged those minutes in spite of sitting in the penalty box for two minutes in the middle of that frame.
Defenseman John Erskine also saw his first action of the series in Game 4. Having been idle for more than two months, it couldn’t have been easy for Erskine to go back into the lineup in the middle of a spirited playoff series.
“It’s unbelievable,” Erskine said of the feeling of being back on the ice after more than two months of watching. “I was watching the last game here. Just to jump on the ice here and have the fans going nuts, it’s playoff hockey so it’s a lot of fun.”
When Alexander Semin scored a power play goal late in the second period, Washington owned its fourth one-goal lead in a span of three games. The Caps were unable to protect any of those three previous leads, so they changed their approach this time.
Washington coach Dale Hunter limited the minutes of the offensive players who had provided that lead, and he then put the onus on his best defensive players to close it out in the final 20 minutes.
It wasn’t necessarily pretty – the Bruins had 34 shot attempts to just five for Washington in the final 20 minutes – but the Caps blocked 12 of those shot bids and they did hold the Bruins without a shot on goal for the game’s final 7:13. Also, no Boston forward put a shot on Washington goaltender Braden Holtby in the game’s final 10-plus minutes.
“That’s a crucial time of the game,” says Holtby of the game’s waning minutes. “That’s the reason we won that game. We knew they were going to press, and we didn’t give them anything. That shows how badly we want it, and we’re going to keep it rolling in Game 5.”
Caps winger Troy Brouwer led all Washington forwards with eight minutes of third period ice time. He and linemates Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle each were on the ice for more than a third of the final period.
Holtby made 44 saves on the 45 shots he faced to earn his second win of the series. He faced at least 13 shots in each period. Holtby needed to be good; there were more breakdowns in front of him in Game 4.
“I thought we played pretty well in the first three games,” says Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman. “I think [Thursday] night we probably had a little too much [defensive] zone time. I think we gave up a 3-on-1 and two 2-on-1s.
“Without Holtby playing as well as he was, that game could have been different. So I think we need to shore that up a bit. We can’t be giving a team like that 3-on-1s and 2-on-1s. And we gave them quite a few 3-on-2s, too. Holtby played really, really well for us. But I think we need to tighten it up going forward here.”
In Monday’s 4-3 Boston win, the Bruins scored two of their goals on rebounds of point shots. Whether by design or not, the B’s had many more shots (19) from the point in Game 4 than in the previous games in the series.
“I wouldn’t say that we’re giving their defensemen shots,” says Wideman. “Obviously you don’t want to give [Zdeno[ Chara and Seidenberg and Boychuk too many shots because they’ve got shots that can score. I think we’ve been trying to collapse a little bit more and take away their slot chances with the skill they have up front. I think we’ll cut down on their [point] shots if we can break the puck out a little bit cleaner. But when they’re firing it, we’ve got to try to box out so Holts can see them.”
No team has won consecutive games in this series, and more than two-thirds of the first four games have been played with the score tied. Boston came out with a renewed sense of intensity and desperation in Game 3 after losing Game 2 in double-overtime. The Caps are expecting another strong Boston push in front of the Bruins’ faithful on Saturday afternoon in Beantown.
“We’ve got to come out with our own desperation,” says Brouwer. “We’re going into a tough building that we’ve had some success in so far this season and were able to get one win in the first two games [in Boston]. We play tight in their building. We try not to give up too many chances, and we just don’t want to open up the game, especially early on.”