The Spoked-B on those Bruins sweaters last night might as well have stood for bullies because it was clear from the drop of the puck that the Bruins planned to begin their Stanley Cup title defense by dropping the Capitals early and often.
This was a game of two teams with distinctly different styles. It was force (Bruins) vs. finesse (Capitals). The Bruins imposed both their will and their game on the Washington Capitals last night at TD Garden, outlasting Alexander Ovechkin and Caps kid goalie Braden Holtby to score a 1-0 overtime win and take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series.
Yes, these aren’t your older brother’s Capitals. They’ve abandoned their ping-pong style of hockey and no longer act like they’re fatally allergic to defense. They play a more measured, responsible game.
But the Bruins clearly felt that they could push Washington around a bit and wasted no time doing so, setting the tone for the game and the series. A game that was short on goals was not on physical contact. The Bruins served Washington a heaping helping of bangers and mash, and I’m not talking about the traditional English dish.
”We don’t want to let them play their fancy hockey and their skill game,” said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. “We want to focus on playing physical and keeping it simple and playing hard and being tough to play against. We did a pretty good job of that tonight. It’s only one game. There is still a lot of time left.”
The Black and Gold’s Big Bang theory worked on night one.
Boston made its presence felt early with some big hits, and defenseman Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg made a point of knocking around Ovechkin to try to knock him off his game. To his credit, Ovechkin seemed like one of a few Capitals willing to consistently engage in the physical stuff with the bruising Bruins. Most of his teammates were looking for salvation in form of the referee’s whistle.
The Russian goal machine gave as good as he got and had a building-shaking collision with Seidenberg in front of the benches in the second period that sent both men tumbling to the ice.
Ovechkin registered a game-high seven hits, but just one shot on goal, a power play laser that Tim Thomas turned aside in the third period. Even with Ovechkin playing a physical game, the Bruins exceeded the Capitals hit count, 40-29.
The Bruins will be more than happy to have nights like last night where Ovechkin, who even in a down year finished fifth in the NHL in goals scored, takes more shots at Chara and Seidenberg than he puts on Thomas.
”That’s what it’s about -- trying to shut him down because he is their biggest offensive threat,” said Seidenberg. “We just got to play tough and try to disrupt his speed and time ... He likes to play a physical game. We do too. It’s fun. I think we all like it out there. It’s been fair.”
This is what the Bruins do. They did it to Vancouver last year. They intimidate and instigate and aggravate. They force teams to fight for every inch of ice. They tilt the rink to their favor and their terms. Finesse teams like the Canucks and Capitals can either whine to the media and the officials or fight through it and try to hurt the Bruins where it counts -- on the scoreboard. Of course, that is easier said than done with the Bruins’ commitment to defensive responsibility and a tuned-in Thomas in net.
The Bruins, who tied for second in the NHL this season in goals scored with 260, have enough skill to compete with Washington in a more wide-open game, but to do so would allow the Capitals to get comfortable.
Instead, the Bruins instituted Capitals punishment all night and took Washington out of its comfort zone in Game 1, locking it into a pucks tractor-pull that wasn’t decided until Chris Kelly blasted a slapper past Holtby at 1:18 of overtime, the goal set up by a well-executed Bruins’ counter-attack.
Don’t let the score fool you. The Bruins dominated this game for long stretches. They outshot the Capitals by a 17-2 count in the second period and after two periods the shots totals stood at a lopsided 26 for Boston to just 7 for Washington. Holtby, making his first career playoff start, was keeping the Bruins at bay with a stream of steady, if unspectacular, stops.
If the Bruins’ power play hadn’t resorted to its feckless playoff form (0-4) then perhaps additional time wouldn’t have been needed at all. Coach Claude Julien admitted after the game that if the Bruins had lost the talk of the evening would have been a power play that failed to convert on a four-minute man advantage and a 4-on-3.
That could come back to haunt the Bruins in series where they’re playing against Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and offensive-minded defenseman Mike Green.
The Bruins sent a message to the Capitals in Game 1 about what kind of series this is going to be. It’s the type that Capitals coach Dale Hunter would have embraced during his rough and tumble playing days. Whether his team is built for that type of hockey remains to be seen.
We already know it’s tailor-made for boys in the Spoked-B sweaters.
”They have a ton of skill, and a way to kind of slow them down is to be physical, and we have a physical team,” said Marchand. “When we’re playing that way we’re playing our best hockey. It was just something we wanted to establish early and just continue to build off it.”
The Bruins have established their tactics in this series -- hit ‘em hard and hit ‘em often. They delivered the blows, including the decisive one in Game 1, now we’ll see in Game 2 Saturday afternoon at TD Garden what the Capitals have planned for a counterpunch.