The Bruins went from stifled, to steamrolling, to Superman celebration.
After winning Game 3 at 5:48 of double overtime, Craig Smith pretended to rip open his Spoked-B and reveal a big Black and Gold ‘S’ underneath. Faster than a speeding bullet, Smith stole the puck behind the Capitals net, slipped home a wraparound, and changed the course of this series. The 3-2 victory Wednesday at TD Garden gave Boston a 2-1 series lead, and a chance to push Washington to the brink in Friday’s Game 4.
Outshooting Washington 19-8 in the extra period-and-change, Boston didn’t break through until Justin Schultz and netminder Ilya Samsonov botched a dump-in behind the Capitals net. Samsonov left it for Schultz, who apparently didn’t expect it. The puck laying there, Schultz had to cut back. He was a moment too late. Samsonov couldn’t recover.
Smith was no longer Clark Kent.
“I don’t know if there was a miscommunication between the two,” said Smith, who left the Predators to sign here for three years and $9.3 million last offseason. “It looked like it. I just tried to jump on it and see if I could create a little bit of a turnover there. They gave me just enough time to get in there and get it.
“It was a great feeling. It was a great feeling,” added Smith, who previously ended Game 2 of a 2019 playoff series against the Stars with an OT winner. “Any time you can end one like that . . . I love winning, but I hate waiting.”
The Bruins likely deserved this one, given their dominance in the extra session. Outshot 8-0 at even strength in the third period, they turned that into a 17-5 edge in the first OT. Smith scored on their second shot in the second overtime, and 43rd of the night.
“We played really good in OT. We were probably the better team,” said Tuukka Rask, who made 35 saves, and like counterpart Samsonov, faced five power plays. Both teams went 1 for 5, one of the reasons the score was deadlocked, 2-2, after 60 minutes.
In extras for the third consecutive game, the Bruins nearly ended it on multiple chances in the first OT, the 4,565 fans in attendance wondering when the end would come.
Among the best bids: Brad Marchand, who scored the tying goal in the third period, had two rebound tries on a bouncing puck in the crease. Zdeno Chara foiled his open-net bid in the opening minutes of the second overtime. Marchand also set up David Pastrnak on a rush chance, Pastrnak just missing the far post. Hauled down by T.J. Oshie, No. 88 spilled into the boards, hitting his upper half hard, and was slow to get up. No penalty call came.
“Absolutely,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, when asked if he expected one. “Those are the calls you have to make, if a guy’s in all alone, a goal-scoring chance. An obvious one.”
Pastrnak collected himself, and returned for his next shift. The right wing who replaced him on the ice, Smith, ended it.
“The sooner you get rid of it, the better it is,” Rask said of Samsonov’s puck touch. “Tough bounce.”
Smith’s linemate Taylor Hall, who scored in the second period, called it “a classic example of him putting pressure on a guy with his speed and his physicality.
“One of the most well-liked guys I’ve ever played with. I’m really happy for him,” Hall said.
Smith returned the favor for Hall, the ex-Sabre who has fit in just as well.
At Wednesday’s morning skate, Bruins assistant coach “Goalie Bob” Essensa mentioned to Hall one instance in which he could have pulled the puck around a defender instead of shooting five-hole.
“That was on my mind as the day went on,” Hall said. “There’s times in games you want to get it on net quickly, surprise the goalie, but there’s also times to make a play around him. I’ve started to get some confidence, goal-scoring wise, since I’ve gotten here.”
Fifty-four seconds after Alex Ovechkin made it 1-0 in the second, Hall tied it with a gorgeous finish. Skating right to left across the crease, he took a backhand feed from Smith, spun around while putting a deft touch on it, then tucked it over Samsonov’s shoulder at 9:17 of the period.
And then: a turnover, a tip, a 2-1 Caps lead late in the second. Charlie Coyle and Pastrnak missed connections on a breakout, and Nic Dowd, who had one goal in 15 playoff games entering this series, scored his second against the Bruins by tipping a pass from Garnet Hathaway at 18:15.
It was the sixth of eight Washington goals this series that went in off a deflection of some kind.
The Bruins’ only power play goal couldn’t have come at a better time. With nine minutes left in the third, Charlie McAvoy drew a high stick in the neutral zone. On their previous four tries, the Bruins’ power play had seven shot attempts, three scoring chances, and no goals.
The next one: count it.
Marchand whiffed on the first pitch, a doorstep chance that went right through his skates. On the second pitch, he tied the game. Marchand swung and connected with a chest-high puck, knocking it past Samsonov at 11:32.
On both those plays, Patrice Bergeron redirected the pass to his linemate, perfectly playing the bumper position with his skates, stick and smarts.
The Capitals nearly ended it in regulation, the Bruins struggling in the third. Nicklas Backstrom hit the post with 4:39 left in the third. Tom Wilson rattled the crossbar with 1:14 to go.
No team has held more than a one-goal lead in this series. And now Boston leads by a game, 2-1, heading into Friday’s Game 4 at TD Garden.
As Cassidy likes to say, it’s a second-effort league. After Smith’s second effort in the second OT, his club has its second win of the series.
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