It looks likes Ilya Samsonov has a bright future in the NHL, but he’ll have to hope his gaffe Wednesday night, when he gifted the Bruins their 3-2 double-overtime win over the Capitals, proves to be growth ring rather than a crushing shot to his ego.
Samsonov, after stopping the puck on the rear wall, mistakenly left it there unprotected, and gift-wrapped in black and gold, with his defenseman, Justin Schultz, in a footrace with Bruins forward Craig Smith. The 6-foot-3-inch goaltender figured Schultz would take control, allowing him return to his net, and play would transition out of the zone.
Rookie goalie. Rookie mistake. Trouble for the Capitals, now in a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series.
It all served as a prime reminder of the risks of putting a freshman in net for the playoffs. Samsonov has pedigree. He was the first goalie taken in the 2015 draft. He has size and quickness. But he came into Wednesday night without a second of postseason experience.
He could return Friday, in Game 4, and pitch a shutout. He is that good. But under the most intense pressure of his budding NHL career, he blinked.
“I think, personally, when you get it, the sooner you get rid of it the better it is,” said Bruins veteran goalie Tuukka Rask. “Communication plays part in that. And when you play overtime, double overtime, fatigues plays part of it, too. A lot goes into it, but yeah, tough bounce.”
Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said it was a “tough ending” and noted the miscommunication between Samsonov and Schultz.
“Looked like one went [with the decision to] leave it, and one went for [counting] on an outlet pass,” said the sullen coach. “A tough break, the way the game ended — I thought Sammy played a hell of a game for us.”
Other observations from the game:
▪ It looks as if this will be a series with little breathing room for the Bruins. For the second time in three games, they did not squeeze out a lead in regulation.
Through three games, the Capitals have totaled 39:02 in lead time, compared with only 7:47 for the Bruins.
▪ Garnet Hathaway is turning into the Esa Tikkanen of this series. The ex-Brown standout (yes, they play hockey at Brown) is greatly overshadowed by his club’s more high-profile forwards (as Tikkanen was in the Oilers’ lineup), but he keeps popping up in significant moments.
One of those moments led to the Capitals’ 2-1 lead late in the second period. The Bruins had control of the puck in their end until a pass intended for David Pastrnak at the blue line got picked off by … wait for it … Hathaway.
Brandon Carlo also had a crack at collecting the pass at the blue line, but Hathaway came away with the puck. He’s a pest, but one with enough skill to contribute offensively.
Moments later, after Hathaway made a stride or two toward the left circle, his wrist shot ended up in the net off a tip from Nic Dowd (who tipped in the overtime winner Game 1).
Earlier in the period, Hathaway cannonballed into Rask, knocking off Rask’s mask as he attempted to muscle into scoring position near the right post. Rask, his mask off, used his blocker (right) hand to give the fallen Hathaway a couple of pops in the head.
Originally signed by Calgary out of Brown (Class of 2014), Hathaway signed with the Capitals as a free agent in July 2019, a four-year deal for a total of $6 million. He is 6-2 and 212 pounds, a fourth-liner with moxie, and at a bargain price.
▪ A significantly better start for the Bruins, limiting the Capitals to four shots in the first period. In both games in D.C., the Capitals came out with gas pedal nailed to the floor. Monday, in Game 2, they held an 8-1 shot lead in the opening three minutes.
▪ Zdeno Chara’s night got off to a rough start when he was felled in the pregame warm-up, knocked to the ice, helmet flying, in a collision with Schultz. Friendly fire. Big Z then heard jeers from the Garden crowd when he was whistled off for a slash on Charlie Coyle at 13:18.
▪ Taylor Hall had the lone Bruins strike in the first two periods, set up with a nifty backhanded feed by Smith. Hall went forehand-backhand-forehand and finished off at the left post with a quick lift over Samsonov. A rare bit of space. The big Capitals defensemen rarely leave such room available.
“They’ve done a good job defending,” said Hall. “You’ve got to give them credit. Any time you have time and space against a team like that, you want to do it.”
The Capitals, noted Hall, play man-on-man in the defensive zone, unlike every team in the league that protects with layers.
“A little different,” noted Hall. “If you can isolate your guy, and beat your guys one-on-one, you’ll have some time. But that is easier said than done.”
▪ The Bruins again went with Charlie McAvoy as their choice for point man on the No. 1 power-play unit. That has been Matt Grzelcyk’s job much of the season, but coach Bruce Cassidy opted for McAvoy in that role in Game 2. David Krejci also worked the back on of the No. 1 unity, with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Pastrnak up front. McAvoy is a tantalizing, obvious choice back there, and all the better if he surrenders his penchant for passing instead of shooting. He has a good shot. But he has to use it.
▪ For the first time in decades, the Bruins were in the playoffs and The Fours, the popular watering hole on Canal Street, was not open to welcome thirsty fans. The world’s greatest sports bar closed its doors for good last summer, amid the pandemic, and weeks later auctioned off its goods.
- Craig Smith pounced on a golden opportunity to give the Bruins a double-overtime victory in Game 3
- Sullivan: The Bruins’ Game 3 win over the Capitals had everything that makes playoff hockey great
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.