WASHINGTON — Playoff success is all about taking advantage of opportunities. Well, opportunity came knock, knock, knockin’ on the Bruins door Saturday night and … no one was home.
Fortunate enough to be facing Craig Anderson, ostensibly the Caps’ fourth-string goalie, the Bruins didn’t generate any kind of sustained attack, or much or any attack at all, and dropped Game 1 of the playoffs, 3-2, to the Caps in overtime.
Similar to recent playoff ousters at the hands of Tampa Bay (2018 and 2020), the Bruins struggled mightily to establish inside ice against the big, hard-hitting and mobile Caps defensemen. Too much popgun and too little pop.
They’ll be back at Bank One Arena for Game 2 Monday night, in need of finding both the lock and key to opening up the door in front of the Washington net. They again might face the 39-year-old Anderson, if rookie Vitek Vanecek (suspected groin pull) remains hors de combat after exiting here only 13:10 into his first career postseason start.
“Size mostly, and they held the blue line well,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, asked post game what made it so hard for his charges to establish inside ice. “I don’t think we attacked them well enough. I don’t think we were willing to drive wide, turn up, support pucks.”
In short, no mojo, no confidence in handling the puck. Some of that might have been jitters, but some of it undeniably was the Caps robust backline, supported in part by ex-Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, effective with 19:05 in ice time — including a game-high 5:06 of penalty killing.
Big Z all done? Not quiet. He looked spry, while Boston’s offense shuffled along in slippers.
“We had pockets of those situations, but not enough,” said Cassidy, noting spots where the Bruins used some of their offensive touch. “I just thought out offensive games was just not where it needed to be —our powerplay (1-for-4) wasn’t crisp, that bled into our 5-on-5 …” Across 65 minutes, the Bruins mustered only 26 shots on net, 11 of those from David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy. The night’s order became getting rubber on Anderson. The order got lost in the Bermuda Triangle of that Caps backline.
Alex Ovechkin wasted no time in setting the Caps smack tone, with a varsity hit on an unsuspecting David Krecji deep in the Boston zone with less than 90 seconds gone. Rarely does the alert Krejci get tagged, especially with that force.
The Caps are bigger and more aggressive than the Bruins and the mighty Ovie got that message across early. It was worth wondering if Chara put the bug in Ovechkin’s ear about taking the heavy game right to the skilled Krejci.
Tom Wilson’s series opening goal, 6:22 into the first, came off a play that generated up left wing with Charlie McAvoy peddling backward after shattering his stick on a shot attempt at the other end. The Caps broke out 3-on-2, and the Wilson finished, top shelf on Tuukka Rask on a 2-on-1 matchup low on left wing.
T.J. Oshie, with the primary helper on the Oshie strike, disappeared down the tunnel for a while later in the period. He’s a Caps key, a big key He also was injured down the stretch of the regular season and likely was seeking aid in the Caps room.
It was Wilson who set up the Oshie shot off the rush in OT, leading to Oshie’s one-timer and winning tip by Nic Dowd. Wilson is pain in the neck, often goes over the line, but he came into the series as an X-factor, and he finished the night with two big X’s on the scoresheet.
After a regular season categorized as dreadful at best, Jake DeBrusk sniped in the 1-1 equalizer, a sharp wrister from mid-slot after linemate Curtis Lazar won a draw to Vanecek’s left moment’s after Mike Reilly landed a long-ranger wrister. DeBrusk collected the puck off the drop and snapped in his wrister, the rookie Vanecek dropping to the splits for the attempted save.
As the Caps skated back to the bench, Vanecek remained down on the ice in pain. He was done for the night, after facing only four shots. Based on the splits, he likely pulled a groin or hamstring.
No matter what the Czech rookie injured, it meant Craig Anderson had to dust off quickly and get in the Caps net. No stranger to the Bruins, who saw him for years and years in the Senators net.
Anderson, in fact, was in net in the spring of ’17, with Cassidy behind the Boston bench for his first playoffs series with the Bruins. The Sens won the series in six games.
Anderson appeared to get away with some trickery with 1:29 left in the first. Under pressure in his end, Anderson bumped the net off its moorings as Chara skated by his crease. It looked intentional, which, if so, would be a two-minute minor. But after some deliberation the officials let it go. Brad Marchand wasn’t happy. His shot from the left side made it into the net, albeit with the net dislodged.
The Bruins, by and large, showed great patience and discipline. They suffered a lot of stiff, robust hits by the bigger Caps lineup. And they did not retaliate. The only lack of discipline in the first two period came when Jeremy Lauzon cross-checked Ovechkin along the rear wall, after Ovie first dumped Kevan Miller aggressively into the boards. Admirable of Lauzon to stand up for his partner, but handing the Caps a power-play chance is playing with fire.
Nick Ritchie’s 2-2 equalizer late in the second was in the mold of most of his career-high 15 goals in the regular season. Parked in front. Providing a screen. Pastrnak wired in a long shot and it bled by Anderson after bouncing off Ritchie’s boot. No finesse to it, but style points don’t count.
The Caps had to be kicking themselves after 60:00, after misfiring on two Grade A chances, one by John Carlson, who fired far right on a 3-on-1 break at the 7:00 mark of the second, and another by Nick Schultz, with 7:18 left in regulation. He too was wide of the net on a clear chance off a faceoff to Rask’s right.
Some 5,000 fans scattered about the Bank One seats. Still not the rattle and hum of a full house, but it at least gave the barn a sense of playoff hockey. And far better than having to stare at cardboard renditions of fans in stands with nauseating piped in applause and cheers.
Twice in the third period, upset at the officiating, the locals chanted in unison, “Refs you suck!”
You don’t get that stuff in the NHL’s canned crowd noise package.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.