The shame of it all, the Bruins said afterward, was that the fans weren’t there to give Zdeno Chara the hero’s welcome he deserved.
He was a pillar of this franchise for 14 seasons, every one of them as captain, and Wednesday was his first time in Boston wearing Capitals colors. Chara should have been feted with an ovation loud enough to be heard in Trencin: authentic, deeply felt, the good stuff ... not the fake crowd noise and respectful rapping of sticks that came after the 90-second tribute video, played at a first-period stoppage.
The big man politely nodded, waved, and clapped, and stood for a brief moment. With no fans allowed in the building, the video included well wishes from season ticket-holders. After that, play on.
It was a quiet night for Chara, who didn’t make much of an impact on this game in 16:59 of ice time. His new team slipped out with a 2-1 shootout win, the East Division’s two best teams bouncing off each other for three periods and overtime.
The real tribute to Chara might have been the stiff, stifling brand of hockey on display between potential future playoff opponents.
“Seemed like the ice was heavier tonight, for both teams,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.
The Capitals, now winners of five straight, overcame a third-period David Pastrnak goal and pinned a hard-luck loss on Tuukka Rask and the Bruins (12-5-3).
Rask, who stopped 27 of 28 shots, could not stop Jakub Vrana on the shootout winner, but he saved the Bruins again and again.
He used a double-pad stack to stop an Alex Ovechkin shot with 12:28 left in the third. He also calmly blockered aside a between-the-legs shot off the rush from Ovechkin, while the latter was tied up by Charlie McAvoy. Rask also stuffed Tom Wilson from the slot with 4:11 left.
In overtime, the Bruins were outshot, 5-1, but Rask turned aside Dmitry Orlov on a two on one and denied Nicklas Backstrom on a tip.
In retrospect, it is surprising Ovechkin didn’t score. He fired 16 attempts, landed six hits, and hit Trent Frederic with a between-the-legs spear, after the rookie kept trying to goad him into a fight.
“In the second, I was telling him he was shooting everything today,” Rask said of Ovechkin, his longtime rival in the Eastern Conference, national teams (Finland vs. Russia), and All-Star Games. “We were laughing about it. Try to keep it light sometimes.”
The action was anything but light. The teams combined for 41 shots through three periods, with few slivers of free ice to be had. It was so clogged that for a 23-minute stretch from the middle of the first period to the middle of the second, the Capitals produced one shot on goal … and still led the Bruins in shots, 11-9, after a scoreless 40 minutes.
Boston didn’t land a shot on goal until Jake DeBrusk’s bid 15:28 in.
The Bruins’ best scoring chance of the opening 40 wasn’t officially a shot on goal. It came when returning blue liner Matt Grzelcyk sprung Pastrnak for a breakaway, past Chara’s reach. Pastrnak’s forehand snap shot hit the post, bounced off the back of Capitals netminder Vitek Vanecek (18 saves), and rang the pipe again. Two-post Pasta.
One minute and 19 seconds into the third period, Brad Marchand forced John Carlson into a fumble and went streaking with Pastrnak on a two on one. The pass was perfect, and Pastrnak had his 10th goal of the season.
The Capitals tied it at 6:14 of the third, picking off a soft Sean Kuraly breakout pass and getting the best of Jakub Zboril and Brandon Carlo down low. Lars Eller slipped home a loose puck.
The Capitals nearly took a 1-0 lead with 9:09 left in the first, but Carlson’s high flip into the zone, leading T.J. Oshie, was ruled offside after a successful challenge by the Bruins. That covered up a rough-looking sequence for Boston, that had newcomer Jarred Tinordi (who was mostly clean in his game) and Connor Clifton converging on Oshie, the Bruins leaving the middle open during a bad line change, and no one covering Richard Panik during a give-and-go with Oshie. Saved by the review.
Tempers flared in the final minute of the first, setting in motion a hit parade. Washington’s Garnet Hathaway pounded McAvoy into the boards, and McAvoy returned fire, but not before Anders Bjork tried to fight Hathaway. Tinordi and Chris Wagner combo-crushed Carl Hagelin near the Bruins’ bench. Panik took Wagner’s number, and then hit him from behind. End result: The Bruins had 1:50 on the power play to start the second period.
Nothing was heard on the power play but crickets. Ovechkin wired one off the bar after the Capitals killed the penalty without allowing a shot.
The Capitals (13-5-4), now 7-1-1 in their last nine, are back at the Garden Friday. They remain the Bruins’ most dangerous divisional foe, and one heavy lift come May.