In overtime, an instant after booting out a dangerous Marcus Johansson shot, Tim Thomas thought about what would come next.
“It actually flashed into my mind right away,’’ Thomas said. “I was like, ‘Man, last year, a couple different times in overtime when I made the big save, we went right down and scored.’ ’’
Thomas’s thoughts became real.
Seconds after Thomas stuffed Johansson, Chris Kelly scooted the other way and ripped a slap shot over rookie goalie Braden Holtby at 1:18 of overtime to give the Bruins a 1-0 Game 1 win at TD Garden.
“I had a good feeling,’’ Thomas said. “I had a good feeling it was going to go in.’’
For the Bruins, it was the perfect ending to a black-and-blue tilt. For three-plus periods, both teams pummeled each other at every turn. The centerpiece collision took place in the second period, when Dennis Seidenberg lined up Alex Ovechkin at center ice. The result: a 10-bell car crash that belonged more on a NASCAR track than an NHL rink. Both players thudded off each other and stumbled briefly. But they both shrugged off the slam and continued play.
“He saw me at the last second,’’ Seidenberg said. “He’s very solid. I just tried to hit him. It doesn’t matter who falls at the end. I’ve just got to be in his way so he can’t do anything.’’
For more than 60 minutes, no pucks were going in against Thomas (17 saves) or Holtby (29). Holtby was far busier, especially in the first 40 minutes, when the Bruins were bringing their best stuff. Holtby turned back 17 shots in the second period. But Holtby also got plenty of help from his teammates, who were cramming shooting lanes and flinging their bodies in front of pucks.
As Holtby held the fort for 40 minutes, his teammates found their legs in the third. In the final 20 minutes of regulation, the Capitals started to change their pack-it-in ways to a more predatory approach.
“I thought we had a really strong first period,’’ said Bruins defenseman Joe Corvo. “We were all over them. I think that kind of changed in the third. I thought we played a sloppy third and gave them back some momentum. But [Holtby] played well. His defensemen blocked a lot of shots, too.’’
Yet as the Bruins have seen repeatedly over the past few seasons, a big-time save can trigger something even bigger at the other end.
Just over a minute into overtime, Johansson, Washington’s third-line right wing, nearly slipped behind the Bruins. Fortunately for Thomas and the Bruins, Greg Zanon recovered just in time.
In Game 1, Boston’s blue-line horses were their top four defensemen. Seidenberg (23:52 of ice time) and Zdeno Chara (21:46) drew the assignment of shutting down Ovechkin. Andrew Ference (17:38) and Johnny Boychuk (17:58) were tabbed to neutralize the second-line duo of Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin.
Zanon, the team’s third-pairing defenseman, didn’t take as many reps as the others, playing 17:05. But he made his last shift count.
Zanon positioned himself perfectly to fend off Johansson’s rush. Zanon didn’t want to let Johansson use his speed to swing wide. Instead, Zanon wanted to get between Johansson and Thomas and let the winger take a shot that his goalie could see.
“It’s something we’ve worked on,’’ said Zanon. “He doesn’t want me to screen him. If he can see the puck, Timmy’s going to make the save most of the time. He was allowed to see it. He made the save for us. Then we just turned it out.’’
The way Zanon had angled off Johansson, the only spot the Washington forward could target was blocker side.
“I pretty much knew it was going blocker side,’’ Thomas said. “I didn’t know if it was going to go up or down. Just trying to position myself well. Sometimes those shots on the ice are actually harder than the shots up high in that type of scenario.’’
Thomas kicked out Johansson’s shot. But the Bruins were still in danger. Had the Capitals sent in support with speed, they could have had a follow-up chance. But Corvo made a quick read to rap the puck off the right-side boards.
“I’m just getting it off the wall, just keeping it out of the middle,’’ Corvo said. “I don’t know what’s in the middle behind me. But I know what’s on the wall. Just trying to get it out of the zone.’’
Brian Rolston was in the right spot to hunt down Corvo’s chip. Rolston settled the puck, then had only one play available - to linemate Benoit Pouliot in the middle. With just a slight turn to his left, Rolston saw that Pouliot was charging through center ice. A backhand chip to Pouliot triggered the counterattack.
“I knew I had time,’’ Rolston said. “Benny was coming flying through. That was my only play.’’
Pouliot saw Kelly streaking up the ice and hit his center with a tape-to-tape pass. Because Kelly had curled back hard into the defensive zone to support his linemates, he had picked up enough speed going the other way.
Ex-Bruin Dennis Wideman angled Kelly to the outside, instead of giving him the middle. Kelly took it and blasted the shot, which appeared to skim off Wideman’s stick and beat Holtby glove side.
The Bruins have always maintained that making defensive plays, coming back hard, and going the other way with speed leads to scoring chances. It was a textbook example of how that philosophy turned into the winning goal.
“Zans made a great play there to come back and defend,’’ coach Claude Julien said. “We moved the puck up the ice quickly and caught them in a transition game. It was outside speed and being able to use that shot. I thought at times tonight, when we did get that outside speed, we were looking to make plays through the middle versus shooting just like Kells did.’’
Yet another overtime win in the playoffs. The Bruins are used to those.