The NHL’s wheel of justice kept spinning on Saturday, spitting out its trademark: unpredictable and head-scratching results.
Capitals winger Anthony Mantha received a $5,000 fine for running Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask late in Game 4. His teammate, Dmitry Orlov, was not penalized for a late, high hit that put Kevan Miller in the hospital Friday night, his actions earning a roughing major that shrank to a double minor upon official review.
The Bruins likely didn’t spend much time, if any, on Saturday discussing which way the Department of Player Safety’s winds were blowing. They have a 3-1 series lead and a closeout opportunity Sunday in Washington.
“Nothing changes for us,” coach Bruce Cassidy said before boarding the team charter. “We’ve said all along, we’re trying to get better every game this series. We want to get to four [wins] first, obviously, and that’s what’s in front of us. We’ve got three. It takes four to win. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves.”
Cassidy’s players had a mental break on Saturday, an optional skate in Brighton before traveling. Miller did not join them. He was resting at home following an overnight stay at Massachusetts General Hospital. He will miss Game 5, at least.
“Went through a number of tests,” Cassidy said. “Feeling a little bit better. That’s what we got.”
Aside from a shift on the third defense pair, the Bruins will not change a lineup that has won three in a row and looked stronger by the game. Connor Clifton will move to his natural right side to replace Miller, and Jarred Tinordi or Urho Vaakanainen will draw in. Neither Jeremy Lauzon (right hand) nor Jakub Zboril (upper body) are ready to play.
Tinordi, 6 feet 6 inches and 235 pounds, is longer and stronger than Vaakanainen (6-1, 185). His size could be useful against a heavy Capitals lineup. He would also be a deterrent for anyone getting their elbows up around Rask.
The rest of the group is on fire, having broken out for four goals Friday and neutralized the Capitals’ powerful forwards. Alex Ovechkin (four shots), Garnet Hathaway (three), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (two) were the only attackers to land more than one shot. T.J. Oshie (lower body) has been all but invisible, submitting 0-0—0 with zero shot attempts on Friday.
At the other end, the Bruins’ top two lines are carving Washington’s No. 1 pair of Orlov and John Carlson, whose expected goals rating — 24.1 percent, according to Natural Stat Trick — is the lowest of any regular duo this postseason. They have been outscored, 3-1, and nearly doubled up in scoring chances (39-20).
“I think your experience tells you that today is a new day, tomorrow is a new day after that,” said Capitals winger Tom Wilson, who has been on the ice for a league-high five 5-on-5 goals this postseason. “I think we know that yesterday wasn’t good enough. It was one bad game and we’re moving forward.”
Make no mistake: even after thoroughly pounding a tired-looking opponent in Game 4, the Bruins don’t have this series wrapped up.
Netminder Ilya Samsonov, likely to make a third consecutive start on Sunday for the first time in his two-year career, has played well. And not only is the Capitals’ core playoff-tested, so too is their coach.
Peter Laviolette was behind the Flyers’ bench when they rallied from 3-0 down in the series, and 3-0 down in Game 7, to knock out the Bruins in the second round of the 2010 playoffs. The winning goal of that game, a stunner at TD Garden, came after the Bruins took a too-many-men penalty. They’ve had two of those in each of the last two games of this series.
“You’ve got to play well, I think, first,” Laviolette said. “You’ve got to play a game that can be successful, and that’ll put you in the game. That’ll give you a chance. I don’t think you can have this long-term plan. It’s got to be a real short-term plan — shift by shift, period by period, and just one game. And that’s all you really talk about, all you really think about: making sure the guys are prepared, making sure they’re ready, and then you go out and fight for it one at a time.”
Experience and preparation do not guarantee execution. The Bruins are in firm control of this series, with eyes on their target.