Tuukka Rask wasn’t watching as officials reviewed the overtime winner, yet another hold-your-breath moment in a Game 1 full of them.
The whole Bruins bench remained, standing in place, for a quick review. But they soon joined their netminder in the room. Good goal, game over, as the Capitals won, 3-2, Saturday night in Washington.
“I think it was going over my head, or at my head, hit a stick, hit my chest, and somehow ended up in the net,” Rask said of Nic Dowd’s winning goal from the slot, a long one-timer from T.J. Oshie that also ticked off David Krejci’s stick out high, and somehow squirted through Rask’s five-hole. The wild bounce gave Washington a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, in a matchup that was physical, intense, and dramatic, from the opening puck drop through the 4:41 mark of OT that saw Dowd’s deflection creep over the line.
“All the goals hit a stick. That’s how it goes sometimes,” Rask said. “That’s hockey. Tough luck on me.”
Opposite Rask’s cage was a goalie surrounded by overjoyed teammates and good fortune. His name was Craig Anderson, and Black and Gold fans remember him from five playoff seasons ago.
Anderson, six days shy of 40, stopped 21 of 22 shots over the final 51:29 to lift the Capitals. The little-used graybeard, who replaced injured starter Vitek Vanecek in the first period, did not look like Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, or Jose Theodore, specters in pads who haunted the Bruins’ playoff past. Anderson was an Ottawa Senator when he booted the Black and Gold from the 2017 playoffs in Bruce Cassidy’s first run as coach. He had not played a playoff game since that run to the Eastern Conference Finals, falling to third on Washington’s depth chart. This was his fifth game of the season.
“Craig hasn’t played a lot of hockey for them,” Cassidy said. “He’s a good goaltender, but you do want to take advantage of that.”
The Bruins largely could not. They recorded 26 shots on goal in total, missing the net 21 times and putting 16 into Washington bodies. Their power play was skittish and rife with overpassing, scoring once on a Nick Ritchie deflection that barely crossed the line.
They had a feel-good moment on Jake DeBrusk’s first-period goal, his 15th playoff goal in 50 games (15-9—24). It came on the play that hobbled Vanecek, slow to get up after attempting a split-legged save. But the forwards higher in the order than DeBrusk were quiet.
Taylor Hall drew a pair of penalties, and David Pastrnak recorded a shot assist on Ritchie’s goal, but it was 0-0—0 for Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Craig Smith, Krejci, and Hall. The top two lines, on fire entering the postseason (12-4-1 record to finish the year), were snuffed out in Game 1.
“I honestly thought our top guys didn’t seem to have it. Couldn’t find ice,” Cassidy said. “Give Washington credit. Couldn’t escape pressure on the power play and find the open guy.
“A lot of those guys who have done a lot of scoring for us weren’t able to get to their game tonight, or get the puck to cooperate, or support each other well enough to generate enough offense.”
Another issue was bad decisions in defending the Capitals’ rushes, which led to the OT winner and Tom Wilson’s opening goal, a top-shelf finish which came after Charlie McAvoy’s stick snapped on a point slapper and the Capitals counterattacked. The Bruins dealt with a few bad bounces that went the other way, but Cassidy felt his defensemen were allowing too much space in defending.
“Probably respected them too much,” Cassidy said.
There was little love at the beginning, particularly from the home team. The Capitals came out pounding. Krejci took a pair of thumps on his opening shift, Brenden Dillon blowing him up and Alex Ovechkin bowling him over. They led the hit count, 51-41, with all but three players landing one. The Bruins responded with a few loud ones — McAvoy had the bench hollering after he flattened Dowd — but it nearly cost them. Lauzon went to the box after retaliating against Ovechkin in the second. The Bruins killed the penalty.
Despite his poor luck, Rask had a strong outing in his return to postseason action. He stopped 29 of 32, turning back Lars Eller twice from the right circle with 5:08 left in the third period of a tie game. He was beaten by Wilson’s far-side snapper, after McAvoy’s CCM broke in half. The Caps took a 2-1 lead at 8:44 of the second, after a tumbling one-hopper from Dillon tipped off Lauzon’s stick.
At 16:38 of the second, Ritchie solved Anderson by getting into his kitchen, but the Bruins didn’t make it tough enough for an old third-stringer who came in cold.
“I just thought as a whole, we didn’t get to our game and sustain it,” Cassidy said. “We had it in pockets. But you’re in overtime, so you’ve got a chance. The same goal they scored on, we had the same chance right before that.”
Welcome to the playoffs. This kind of stuff happens here.