The playoffs are still far enough away that it would be foolish to look ahead, but they’re close enough for the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals to know that there’s a good chance they could cross paths.
The bad blood between the teams had been brewing since March when Capitals right wing Tom Wilson delivered a reckless, head-hunting hit on Brandon Carlo that left Carlo concussed and Wilson with a bloody nose.
With the Capitals sitting as the top team in the East Division, and the Bruins starting to regain their footing as a Stanley Cup contender following the trade deadline, the matchup produced a spirited battle in which neither team wanted to give any ground Sunday at TD Garden.
Bodies hit the boards, hits blurred the line of legality, and scuffles set the tone for a game in which both teams wanted to send a message.
The Bruins got their point across with a 6-3 win that extended their winning streak to four games. They jumped out to an early 2-0 first-period lead, fell behind, 3-2, in the second, and regained it, 5-3, before the period was over without losing composure against one of the top teams in the league.
“I think you can definitely see the confidence growing,” said captain Patrice Bergeron. “And I think that’s what happens when you start getting that belief. You can get back in games, just like we showed today.”
While the Capitals can be comfortable about their playoff positioning, the Bruins are just as assured despite holding down the last playoff spot in the division.
“I don’t really think we’re looking too much into the standings,” said David Krejci, who finished with two goals. “We obviously know where we’re at, but we don’t really talk about it. We just want to play the way we’re supposed to, and I think the last four wins, that’s the way we want to play.”
The Bruins threw the Capitals in a 2-0 hole in the first period. Playing shorthanded, Bergeron gave the Bruins their first goal at the 12:02 mark, punching in a backhand off a feed from Brad Marchand. Moments later Krejci delivered his first of two goals, finishing off a rush with Connor Clifton and Craig Smith.
Two quick goals were enough to put away the New York Islanders two nights ago, but the Capitals were a different story. T.J. Oshie responded with his 15th goal of the season with 10 seconds left in the first period, then came through with his 16th 3:48 into the second to even the score.
Washington took the lead, 3-2, at the 4:54 mark on Anthony Mantha’s wrist shot past Tuukka Rask, his fourth goal in four games with the Capitals.
The Bruins responded with a flurry.
Marchand tied it at 3, rebounding a David Pastrnak miss and pushing it past Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek. Krejci put the Bruins on top again with a patient shot in front of the net past a sliding Dmitry Orlov for his second score of the day. Bergeron added to the lead, coming in on the tail end of a 2-on-1 with Pastrnak and Marchand for his second goal.
“Very encouraging,” said Bergeron. “I think that’s kind of the poise that you want to see during the course of a game, that you’ve been there before. It’s about staying with it, worrying about the next shift, and try to learn from what just happened.
“They take the lead and we stuck with it. We know that if we play the right way we can get back in games. We’ve done it many times before so it was nice to see that poise and that confidence.”
Marchand added an empty-net goal to send the Capitals to their second loss in the past three games. Boston now has the edge in the regular-season series, 4-3, with one more meeting set for May 11.
Seeing the way the Bruins pushed back in the second period confirmed what Cassidy already believed about his team.
“We can play different styles of game,” Cassidy said. “We can get moving and skating and push the pace and score goals. We were having a lot of trouble earlier this year, we’re not out of the woods with that yet. But we’re getting better at it, transitioning and winning a game where if we give up three goals, we can still win a game.”
In the past four wins, the Bruins have edged the Buffalo Sabres in a one-goal game, wiped out the New York Islanders twice, and survived a dogfight with the Capitals.
“We’re very comfortable in those 1-1 games that are going into the third period, physical games we’ve matched up well over the years,” Cassidy said. “There’s always one team that’s probably a little better than others in a certain area. But I feel that our team is good against any style.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.