WASHINGTON — The Bruins fired a substantial amount of rubber Saturday in their series-opening 3-2 OT loss to the Capitals. To their regret, upward of 60 percent of those attempts (37 of 63) didn’t make it to the net, and there also wasn’t much in the way of loose change to collect off the 24 saves that Caps tenders Vitek Vanecek and Craig Anderson were forced to make.
They’ll need better here tonight in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series. Much better.
First, the Bruins will need to land more shots, particularly against the aged Anderson, the presumptive starter, now less than a week away from his 40th birthday. Then they’ll also need to exert far better will and presence around the net, be it for shots, tips, rebound attempts, or simply making it more difficult for the Caps tender to see shots.
“It’s going to be a challenge with bigger [defensemen], we know that,” noted Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, his forwards unable to establish low/inside ice against the big, beefy Caps backliners. “There were pockets of good stuff — but not enough up and down the lineup to generate enough offense.”
Anderson, the former longtime Senators tender, should be a key point of vulnerability for the Caps, one that the Bruins will try to exploit. He barely played in the regular season. He is ostensibly their No. 4 tender, behind Vanecek, Ilya Samsonov, and Pheonix Copley, and was not expected to be anything more than practice goalie in the postseason.
Vanecek appeared to pull a groin or hamstring in Game 1, ceding the net to Anderson when Jake DeBrusk nailed in the 1-1 equalizer on only the Bruins’ fourth shot of the night. He did not skate in Sunday’s optional workout and coach Peter Laviolette, no surprise, didn’t say how long he expects the rookie Czech to be sidelined.
“Day to day,” offered the less-than-loquacious Laviolette, “and I don’t know if that means short or long.”
Samsonov was on the ice for the first time in nearly two weeks, his first day made available after a lengthy second tour on the covid-19 “unavailable” list. Laviolette sounded doubtful that Samsonov would be in game form by Monday night, making Anderson-Copley the most likely tandem. Either one should have the Bruins all the more eager to take the game directly to the Caps net.
Anderson, who will be 40 on Friday, became only the 11th goalie, age 39-plus, in NHL history to record a playoff victory, and was the first of the eldertenders to do so since Martin Brodeur (NJD) did it June 9, 2012.
For the record, the other nine goalies to win in the over-39 bracket include: Lester Patrick (NYR), age 44, 1928; Dominik Hasek (DET), 43, April 12, 2008; Gump Worsley (MIN), 42, April 11, 1972; Johnny Bower (TOR), 42, April 25, 1967; Jacques Plante (STL), 41, April 28, 1970; Curtis Joseph (CAL), 40, April 13, 2008; George Hainsworth (TOR), 40, April 9, 1936, Dwayne Roloson (TBL), 41, May 25, 2011; and Tony Esposito (CHI), April 20, 1983.
Note: a number of the goalies on the list won more than once after age 39; the date provided represents their last playoff win in the age category.
Following his club’s late-morning workout, Cassidy said he would come back with his Game 1 lineup, with Tuukka Rask again in net. His only possible alteration could be on the No. 3 D unit, where Jeremy Lauzon suffered a hand injury off a Justin Schultz slapper in the third period.
If Lauzon is out (and he did not practice), then Cassidy will sub in either Connor Clifton or Jarred Tinordi to pair with Kevan Miller. Remember when we said the Bruins could be eager to have Zdeno Chara in their lineup come playoff time?
One tactical attack approach, not raised by Cassidy after the workout, would be to encourage any of the four defensemen in Boston’s top two pairings to enter more readily into the attack once over the offensive blue line.
Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo, and newcomer Mike Reilly have varying degrees of shooting skills, some quite good, that could present the Caps defense with coverage issues.
The problem with D-men straying too deep in the O-zone, of course, is the chance that the Caps gain possession and wire passes for breakaways. Risky. But if the Caps continue to close off the high-danger shooting areas and frustrate even the Bruins best attackers, Cassidy may have to try it or perhaps be faced with returning to Boston for Game 3 (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.) in a 2-0 hole.
The Bruins went nearly five minutes without landing a shot in Game 1 until David Pastrnak uncharacteristically muscled his way in front of Vanecek for a doorstep stuff attempt. Pastrnak usually makes his bacon as a shooter (patented one-timers in the left wing circle), or in give-and-go or passing exchanges. Instead, he took the far less subtle bull rush approach and got knocked down for his trouble. More of that could be in order.
“Yeah, definitely, I mean it’s the playoffs and you want to put as many pucks on net as you can,” he said. “Especially, because it was the first [playoff] game for [Vanecek]. There was little open ice there early in the game so I just tried to stuff it.”
The Bruins have seen this scenario before in recent playoff seasons, in both 2018 and ’20, when they couldn’t crack the code low in Tampa’s defensive zone. Big and skilled Bolts blueliners constantly kept Boston forwards hogtied.
The biggest difference this time around against the Caps is that the Bruins have a more capable, potentially productive second line, evident since newcomer Taylor Hall joined David Krejci and Craig Smith. Neither of the top two lines factored in the two goals Saturday, but for his part, Hall drew a pair of penalties. They could use a little more of that, too.
“I thought their gaps were good,” said Smith, reflecting on the effectiveness of the Washington defensive unit. “I thought they really forced us to put some pucks in tough areas. But we’ll work on that. The onus is on the forwards to make their plays, get some space, use their speed and create.”
Whatever the method, now’s the time. The Caps goalie may be old, but the Boston attack in Game 1 looked same ol’, same ol’,