WASHINGTON — One team was not in ideal condition.
The other was the Stanley Cup champion.
Zero doubt about either fact.
After the Capitals raised their banner with a cathartic, drawn-out ceremony, their fans kept on cheering as they smacked around the visitors for 60 minutes, the fans intermittently chanting, “Back to back.” Washington scored a touchdown and punted the Bruins to Buffalo.
“Sometimes you say, ‘Watch the video,’ ” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Listen, we lost 7-0. The video’s probably going to reaffirm what we know. We didn’t compete nearly hard enough. We didn’t execute very well at all. We weren’t in the same class as the Capitals tonight, plain and simple.”
They were sluggish in a shellacking on opening night, the most troubling one-game sample possible. Blame the September excursion to China, if you’d like. Point to the absence of Torey Krug, Patrice Bergeron’s wonky groin, and the shaky play of Tuukka Rask. Look toward a lineup with several new faces playing a championship team that arrived for 2018-19 largely intact.
But these are hard truths:
Until Wednesday, the Bruins had not lost by more than five goals in an opener. The most recent such thrashing: 8-3 to the Panthers in 2006.
They had not been shut out in an opener in 63 years, the most recent whitewashing a 2-0 loss to Montreal in 1955.
The starter was pulled halfway through Game 1 of 82. Rask was handed a ballcap at 7:28 of the second period, after allowing a goal on his third consecutive shot, in a span lasting 3:11. He let in five goals on 19 shots.
Even if Rask was as good as Washington’s Braden Holtby (25 saves), “I don’t know if it would have mattered,” Cassidy said. “I’m not putting this on Tuukka. I think our core in general needed to be a lot better. They’re supposed to be the leaders, who come out and play like that and the kids follow. Neither the leading nor the following happened tonight.”
The Bruins were a bunch of empty uniforms. The Bergeron line was chasing the play. Defensive-zone coverage was an adventure. Scoring chances were few and far between. The power play went 0 for 2. Meanwhile, Washington had 37 shots, went 4 for 6 on the man-up, and looked dangerous all night.
Hangover? What hangover? Alex Ovechkin, after doing keg stands with Stanley all summer, was seeing plenty straight when he cranked a one-timer past a punch-drunk Rask at 4:17 of the second period. Rask was dizzy after allowing a backhand spin-o-rama to fourth-liner Nic Dowd, then was put to bed after surrendering a shorthanded, short-side softie to Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals).
Yanking him on opening night? Yikes.
Yet it was not all his fault.
Cassidy answered “a lot” when asked to name the most concerning facet of Boston’s game. He settled on “our lack of competitive spirit.” “It’s opening night,” he added. “Guys should be a little hungrier to play. Got behind the eight-ball early. Clearly weren’t ready to go and it carried on from there. I expected a much better effort.”
The Bruins waited in their dressing room through 20-plus minutes of ceremony, of tear-jerker videos, and a sermon from Washington play-by-play announcer John Walton that announced the sea of red fans as “forever changed, forever grateful, forever proud” for the franchise’s first title. They raised the banner, gazed lovingly at it, and eventually, Ovechkin put the Cup down and they started teeing off.
The Capitals, who extended their winning streak against the Bruins to 13 games and dropped Rask to 1-11-5 in his career against Washington, needed 24 seconds to score. The Bruins hemmed in their zone, Nicklas Backstrom (three assists) threw a cross-ice pass to T.J. Oshie, who hammered it home.
With Sean Kuraly off for tripping 1:45 in, Bergeron won a defensive-zone draw. The puck hopped over the sticks of Zdeno Chara and Rask and onto that of Kuznetsov, who made it 2-0.
After Rask was pulled, John Carlson did his Ovi impression, launching a one-timer missile past backup Jaroslav Halak (16 saves on 18 shots). Lars Eller scored on a breakaway at 10:52 of the third, laughing and gesturing and sending fans delirious into a 72-degree evening in the nation’s capital.
“A lot to think about and a lot to improve,” said Chara, who laid a big hit on Oshie after the first goal, hoping to change the tide. “You have to be competing every shift you’re out there. It’s a very competitive league. If you don’t compete, you’re going to get exposed. We got exposed tonight.”
As if the night wasn’t enough of a movie-like dream for Washington, the bad guy did something villainous. Seeing Eller’s touchdown dance, Brad Marchand jumped him with 6:06 remaining. He earned 17 minutes in penalties and an early trip to the showers. Eller was cut, bleeding from the head. It was the most significant damage any Bruin did.
Matt Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.