WASHINGTON - Zdeno Chara does not often make mistakes on the defensive side of his game. But in the third period of Game 3 Monday, there was the Boston strongman, looking at the wrong end of Brooks Laich - the back of the No. 1 center’s jersey.
The Bruins were in control. They had a 3-2 third-period lead. Chara and top-pairing mate Dennis Seidenberg were on the ice, patrolling the neutral zone.
Somehow, Laich slipped behind Chara. When Chara finally noticed, it was too late. Laich took a long-distance pass from Nicklas Backstrom, zoomed in on a breakaway, and scored the tying goal on Tim Thomas at 14:00.
“We lost a guy,’’ Chara acknowledged. “We were gapping up. I don’t know what happened. Obviously it’s my responsibility to look around. I thought he was ahead of me, but he sneaked behind. He made a really nice play. We have to be aware of that when they stretch guys. It’s just maybe a lack of communication, too.’’
It was only fitting, then, that Chara made amends at the other end. At 18:07 of the third, Chara struck a slapper. The puck caromed off Roman Hamrlik’s stick and skittered past Braden Holtby to give the Bruins a 4-3 win before 18,506 at the Verizon Center.
“He kind of lost track of him,’’ coach Claude Julien said of Chara’s misplay on Laich. “He didn’t realize he was there. He kind of looked the other way. He looked at [Alex Ovechkin]. Before he knew it, he had snuck behind him. Nice for him to redeem himself and score the winner.’’
The Bruins have a 2-1 series lead. In Game 3, the Bruins won more battles than they did in the 2-1 Game 2 double overtime loss.
“We definitely were better in that area. We needed to be better in that area,’’ Julien said. “I thought as the game progressed, I felt our team getting better. Especially in the second period, our forecheck was becoming more efficient for us. We just kept going from there.’’
The teams were four-on-four because Milan Lucic had wiped out a Boston power play. The Bruins had gone on a critical man advantage at 16:46 after Backstrom was called for cross-checking. At 17:34, a post-whistle scrum broke out. Replays showed that Lucic took some punches and swipes. Lucic retaliated and was tagged with a double minor for roughing to negate the power play.
“I don’t know what started it,’’ Julien said. “I don’t know what happened. We ended up on the short end of it. This is playoff hockey. The emotions are going to run high. You’ve got to try and stay in control the best you can. At the end of the day, you look at your team, we killed it off, and we won the hockey game.’’
Seidenberg took advantage of the four-on-four situation. There was open ice available behind the Washington net. Instead of staying at home on the left point, Seidenberg took what was given. He pinched down, won a puck battle, wheeled around the net, and considered his options.
Patrice Bergeron had rotated back to the left point to cover Seidenberg’s position. Seidenberg sent a cross-ice pass up to Bergeron, who then fed Chara at the right point. Seidenberg could have retreated to a defensive position, but he decided to root himself in front of Holtby and set a screen. With his partner set up in front, Chara brought the hammer down on the winning slapper.
“He won that battle, stayed with it, and he did what he had to do,’’ said Julien. “We told our D’s, ‘If you’re in and somebody’s covering up for you, you don’t have to rush out, especially if we have full control of the puck.’ He did a great job. Z had a great shot.’’
It was the most offense the Bruins had generated on Holtby (25 saves), who looked human in the second. In Games 1 and 2, Holtby allowed just two total goals. In Monday’s second period, Holtby made a rare gaffe.
After taking advantage of a collision between John Carlson and Marcus Johansson, Rich Peverley put a short-range shot on goal. The puck glanced off Holtby’s glove and hopped into the net at 0:35, tying the game at 1-1.
Just 13 seconds later, the Capitals pulled ahead again. Ovechkin rapped a sharp-angle shot that appeared to skim off Seidenberg’s stick and flutter past Thomas (29 saves) at 0:48.
The Bruins scored the next two goals after some hard-hat work by their bottom-six plumbers. Shawn Thornton whirred past Jeff Schultz to hunt down a Seidenberg rim. Thornton’s hustle initiated some down-low cycling, which ended with Greg Zanon taking a point shot. Zanon’s attempt didn’t get through, but Daniel Paille, parked in front, whacked in the game-tying rebound at 9:38.
The fourth line flickered on and off in Game 1. As the series has become more physical and emotional, the hard hats have improved.
“We’re definitely finding our way in the last two,’’ Paille said of the fourth line. “For our line, we want to continue to move forward.’’
Sixty-two seconds into the third period, the Bruins pulled ahead. Again, it was some net-front action by the third line. Brian Rolston slammed in the rebound of a Chris Kelly shot to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead. It was the third goal scored by the No. 3 line in the series.
Such contributions are what have pushed the Bruins over the edge so far. Peverley is the only top-six forward to beat Holtby. Four of the Bruins’ six goals have come off the sticks of their bottom-six foot soldiers.
Grinding, it seems, will be the way this series goes.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.