WASHINGTON - Halfway through yesterday’s first period against the Capitals, Milan Lucic fired up the pistons, charged over the blue line, and made a straight line toward the net. Naturally, he was rewarded with a Rich Peverley dish, which he converted into his 19th goal.
It was much easier said than done for Lucic and the rest of the Boston forwards just 24 hours earlier. The Bruins submitted a decent performance in a 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh at TD Garden. But the most dangerous scoring chances came from Boston’s back end. The forwards weren’t at their best at owning the real estate in front of the net and in the danger areas.
That wasn’t the case yesterday. Lucic’s first-period goal set the pace for the rest of the game, as the Bruins emerged from the Verizon Center with a 4-1 win.
Later in the first, Patrice Bergeron won a puck battle along the end boards against Karl Alzner. Brad Marchand, also aggressive on the forecheck, then beat Tomas Vokoun with a short-range shot at 18:38 to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
At 6:38 of the third, Tyler Seguin recorded his 20th goal. Seguin tipped a Marchand feed past Vokoun to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead. Peverley added an empty-netter.
With the victory, the Bruins snapped a two-game losing skid.
“When you look at how much we haven’t been able to start off with a lead in a fair amount of games lately, that first goal, I thought, was huge for us,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “We’re a pretty good team when playing with the lead. To be able to create it was a big boost for us.’’
Lucic’s goal - he blew past Dennis Wideman, giving Peverley time and space to give him the puck - came while he was playing with a new center. For most of the last two seasons, David Krejci has been feeding pucks to Lucic.
Yesterday, Julien dropped Krejci to the third line with Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Caron. Chris Kelly replaced Krejci between Lucic and Peverley. Lucic and friends didn’t disappoint.
“Sometimes you need to switch things up when things aren’t going so well,’’ Lucic said. “It ended up working out today. For myself, it doesn’t change the way I have to play. That’s what makes my game easy to play. I’ve just got to keep it the same no matter who I play with. We played well on both sides of the puck. Everyone did.’’
Julien made the switch for two reasons. First, he wanted to grab his players’ attention. Entering yesterday, Krejci had zero goals and one assist in his last four games.
But Julien also knew that Washington counterpart Dale Hunter would lean on his matchups throughout the game. Hunter rolled out a grinding line of Matt Hendricks, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer against the Bruins’ top threesome of Marchand, Bergeron, and Seguin. Hunter also matched John Carlson and Alzner against Bergeron’s line.
With his best two-way line otherwise occupied, Julien wanted the defensive-minded Kelly to skate against Washington’s No. 1 line of Alex Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson, and Alexander Semin.
Of course, Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk also would be deployed against Ovechkin’s line. They didn’t disappoint.
Ovechkin landed seven shots on goal. But nearly every time Ovechkin hit the ice, Chara and Boychuk were there too. In the second period, Ovechkin took shifts with Jeff Halpern and Mike Knuble in hopes of eluding Chara (team-leading 25:49 of ice time) and Boychuk (21:43, team-high four hits). The only offense Washington could generate was a third-period Johansson shot that bounced off Dennis Seidenberg and beat Tim Thomas at 12:04.
“That’s what Z likes to do,’’ Julien said of his captain. “He likes the challenge of playing against top players and shutting them down. Today was no exception. He did a great job on him. Ovechkin’s such a good player. He’s going to get his opportunities. But you’ve got to minimize them. As a whole, we did a pretty good job of that.’’
Thomas (35 saves) was at the top of his game. Playing on back-to-back days for the first time this season, he made first stops look routine and steered rebounds out of harm’s way. In the first, Thomas kicked out a Johansson shot, then scrambled back to get a blocker on Ovechkin’s follow-up bid. Later in the first, Thomas went the unorthodox route by diving and shoving the paddle of his stick in front of Joel Ward’s short-range attempt.
But Thomas had plenty of help from his teammates. The defensemen gave him good looks at shots. The forwards backchecked efficiently.
“Overall, the last couple days, we’re headed in the right direction,’’ Thomas said. “We’re starting to play the type of hockey the Boston Bruins play.’’Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.