WASHINGTON — The Bruins bolted out like bold, runaway thoroughbreds at the Verizon Center Tuesday night, then buckled like broken down $1,000 claimers, and ultimately limped out of the arena as 4-3 overtime losers to the Capitals.
With only 37 seconds gone in overtime, Eric Fehr split defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Dennis Seidenberg and roofed his winner to the top right corner on Tuukka Rask. The goal completed perhaps Washington’s best win yet, a rally back from a 3-0 first-period deficit that initially had the Bruins looking as if they would turn the night into a laugher. They did, but the hosts ended up laughing last.
Led by first-period goals from Brad Marchand (penalty shot), Zdeno Chara, and then Hamilton (power play), the Bruins had command by the 18:30 mark of the first period. But the Capitals, finally beginning to gain some traction under new coach Adam Oates, trimmed the lead to one goal in the second period when Mike Ribeiro and Tomas Kundratek connected less than six minutes apart.
The Capitals completed the comeback with only 6:05 remaining in regulation when Wojtek Wolski slipped through and behind the Seidenberg-Hamilton backline and swept a short backhander through Rask’s pad. Washington was back even, 3-3, for the first time since Marchand’s strike on the penalty shot.
It was Boston’s second straight loss — and second straight in which they blew a third-period lead — after getting rubbed out by the Canadiens, 4-3, Sunday night on Causeway Street.
Coach Claude Julien was irked over his team’s inability to finish chances. The Bruins outshot the Capitals, 15-8, in the final period and failed to convert on a number of odd-man rushes.
“We have a lot of guys who have to be better,’’ said Julien. “We miss a 3 on 1, we miss a 2 on 1. We have to capitalize on those chances. If you capitalize, it’s a different hockey game.
“We had a lot of break downs,’’ the coach continued. “On the OT winner, one guy beats two guys. It says a lot. We had lots of chances to seal the deal and we didn’t.”
Julien expressed disappointment in both the lack of production and defensive errors from his third line of Chris Bourque, Chris Kelly, and Rich Peverley.
“Offense, defense, we’re not getting either from that line,’’ Julien said of the trio, which finished a combined minus-7. “It’s a concern we have to look at.’’
The Bruins blew it open in the first with one of their best one-period offensive bursts of the season, collecting three goals in roughly a 12-minute stretch.
Marchand, the L’il Ball o’ Hate, sparked the run at 6:29 with his strike on penalty shot, the free chance handed to him when Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin hacked his breakaway attempt while killing a penalty. Already with a team-high 11 goals, Marchand zipped straight down the middle on the penalty shot and zipped a forehander through Braden Holtby’s five hole for the 1-0 lead.
Team captain Chara, whose 17 penalty minutes triggered a 4-3 unraveling to the Canadiens on Sunday, bumped the lead to 2-0 with 2:53 left in the period. Big Z first unloaded a sizzling wrister from the top inner edge of the right wing faceoff circle, with David Krejci setting a screen near the right post.
The shot nailed Krejci in the midsection, the puck fell to the top of the crease, and the trailing Chara followed up with doorstep pop under Holtby’s left pad for the two-goal advantage.
Ovechkin provided yet another boost just before the period ended, putting the Bruins on the power play at 18:15 when he blindsided Kelly with a hit ruled interference.
Only 15 seconds later, Hamilton drilled in a half-slapper from the slot point, after first being set up by a pair successive backhand feeds, first by Krejci and then by Nathan Horton. It was textbook puck movement and quick-decision making, much of which has been in short supply for the Bruins this season on their underperforming man-advantage.
Not long after the second goal, strongman Shawn Thornton hooked up in his first fisticuffs since getting his bell rung in a bout with Buffalo’s John Scott on Jan. 31. The bout ended with Thornton parked over a fallen John Erskine, ending the round, but Erskine opened the punchfest with two big, hard rights to Thornton’s noggin.
With only 2:51 to go before the first intermission, both men reported directly to their dressing rooms. Thornton appeared to be fine, but there was no denying he took a couple of good pops. They each were in their respective penalty boxes when the second period opened.
Thornton reported after the game that he was fine.
“You can probably see one of his hand marks on the side of my neck,’’ he said. “But hey, it’s a fight.’’
The three-goal lead turned into a bit of success the Bruins found hard to handle. By the end of 40 minutes, their 3-0 laugher hand turned into a 3-2 nailbiter.
Ex-Hab Ribeiro connected first for Washington, breaking Rask for the first time at 5:46 of the second. Rookie Steve Olesky triggered the play with a shot above the right circle, one that Ovechkin plucked out of the air in that circle, the puck dropping to his feet. One quick cross-slot dish had Ribeiro free to pot his eighth of the season, lifting his team-high point total to 25.
The Capitals chipped the Boston lead to 3-2 at 11:32 when Kundratek scored the first of his career. Kelly and Nicklas Backstrom battled on a faceoff, with Backstrom booting a dead puck up to Kundratek at the top of the right wing circle. His knuckling shot eluded Rask and the Verizon crowd, quiet when it was 0-3 for the home team, was hootin’ n’ a hollerin’.
Asked if the Bruins suffered a mental letdown after the first period, Chara pulled no punches.
“For sure,’’ he said. “Look at the first 20 minutes and the second 20 minutes, we took a totally different approach. It just wasn’t enough in the second period. I don’t know if we were trying to do too much or whether we’re being too loose. But it wasn’t good enough.Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.