The Bruins tied it up twice, but the fast and rugged Capitals had answers both times
One streak is over. The other is alive and unwell.
The Bruins, losers of 14 straight against the Capitals and previously winners of five in a row, extended their misery against the defending Stanley Cup champs, falling, 4-2, in a spirited affair at TD Garden Thursday night.
Boston (25-15-4) had a chance to tie Toronto for second place in the Atlantic Division, but went down early. The Bruins tied it twice, on goals by Ryan Donato (second period) and David Krejci (early third). But Washington had the answer both times, saddling the Bruins with an 0-11-3 record in their last 14 against the Metropolitan Division leaders (27-12-4).
A playoff series between these two teams would be highly entertaining, physical, ornery stuff. A regular-season rematch is coming Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 3) in D.C., and the Bruins will have more history to overcome.
“I don’t have a great answer, or we probably would have pulled it out of our hat a while ago,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.
Boston took it to the Capitals throughout, but allowed the first goal 6:38 in and played catch-up hockey.
When defensemen John Moore and Torey Krug were caught up ice, T.J. Oshie saw Jakub Vrana racing toward the far blue. The Capitals’ second-leading goal scorer was all alone and deked Jaroslav Halak for his 15th of the year.
Though the Bruins outshot the visitors, 11-4, through the first 12 minutes, 17-5 in the first 20, and 41-21 overall, the fast, rugged Capitals struck quickly when Boston gained momentum.
“We controlled the play the whole way through,” Brad Marchand said. “Really the only looks they had were their goals and a couple late when we were forcing.”
That wouldn’t have been necessary had Boston had any traction on the power play. Seven for their previous 17 coming in, the Bruins went 1 for 5, with eight shots.
Two first-period PPs went nowhere. Marchand drew both: Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler held him 1:51 in, but the Bruins got two good scoring chances and set up for mere moments. He drew another call at 14:14, a Michal Kempny trip, and Boston was able to set its formation. But passes that normally connect did not. Then came Braden Holtby.
On a low-angle PP rebound, Holtby, 5 feet outside his crease, split out to deny David Pastrnak with his pad. The netminder had to be on his game, the Bruins firing rubber as they were. They produced 74 shot attempts to Washington’s 39.
Halak (18 saves), starting for the second time in two weeks, kept it scoreless early by making a sprawling save on Tom Wilson after the winger beat Zdeno Chara wide. He fought off an Alex Ovechkin bomb in the second. He stopped Lars Eller (the Capitals shorthanded) and Travis Boyd (twice) point-blank in the third.
In total, he was beat by a Vrana breakaway, an Ovechkin snapshot from in tight, and a long Nicklas Backstrom snapper, the latter of which Cassidy termed “the difference-making play in the game . . . They made it, we didn’t. Let’s get ready for Toronto [on Saturday].”
Said Halak, who conceded Backstrom beat him clean: “It was one of those games where I needed to make one extra save, and we could go in OT or whatever.”
That would have been must-see TV. Thursday was spirited, like a game between two playoff contenders should be, especially two involved in a 7-0 Washington win on opening night.
On his first shift, Pastrnak stepped into Oshie on the forecheck, but the Capitals winger sidestepped a potential open-ice blast. Wilson, as usual, ran around with his arms up. Siegenthaler and Chris Wagner went hit for hit on one second-period shift, glaring at each other as they skated off. Wagner later drew Wilson’s ire by hammering Kempny near the Boston bench.
Ovechkin, never shy, sent a message late in the first. He snuck behind Chara as the big man played the puck near the Washington bench, and pushed him backward over the dasher, into teammate Chandler Stephenson’s lap.
After the Bruins killed a Patrice Bergeron trip in the second period, they got their first man-advantage after Eller, beat down by Marchand late in the season-opening rout, accosted him and demanded a rematch. Marchand, suddenly the Lil’ Ball o’ Restraint, let the angry Dane take a two-minute timeout.
“For his pride, he probably wanted to [fight], to make him feel better about the last situation,” Marchand said.
“I really don’t feel a need to try to prove anything,” he added, guessing Eller “plays maybe 10, 12 minutes a night [actually 15:16]. I’m playing 20 [actually 23:01]. And it was a 1-0 game.”
It stayed that way through a Bruin power play and a golden Wagner chance from the slot (he wired a slapper over the net). Still 1-0 after Ovechkin sold a tripping call on Brandon Carlo, and the Bruins killed it.
Then the College Line, hunting the puck, got it to Krug, who fed Donato on the wing. The rookie from Scituate loaded a wrister and tied the score at 14:11 by beating Holtby clean from inside the right circle.
“On the puck, attacked well, obviously finished a nice play,” Cassidy said of Donato, who established career highs in shots in a game (seven) and goals in a season (six). Cassidy praised the young line of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Danton Heinen, and especially Donato, whom he said was “arguably our most effective forward.”
But 39 seconds after he scored, Ovechkin got to a soft, low area between Carlo, Noel Acciari, and Sean Kuraly, and roofed Wilson’s slick pass from behind the net. He later added another, an unassisted empty-netter, for his league-leading 32nd of the year and 639th of his career.
Boston opened the third with 1:52 of power-play time, after Krug tangled with ex-Bruins teammate Brett Connolly and drew a holding call. Zero shots.
But finally, the power play converted.
When the Capitals were caught with too many men 3:58 into the third, the Bruins used their second power play unit first, the Bergeron group having taken a shift before. Krejci stepped into a slap shot from well above the right circle to tie it, 2-2, his eighth of the season at 4:37.
Just like Ovechkin, Backstrom delivered the dagger less than a minute after a Bruin goal. He scooped a loose puck through at center ice, broke in on Kevan Miller and beat Halak low glove. As Backstrom celebrated his first goal in 15 games, the netminder closed his eyes and sighed.
“I didn’t make a save,” said Halak, who made 18 stops on 21 shots. “That’s the bottom line. I got outplayed by their goalie . . . The next game I get a chance, hopefully down the road, I can help the guys.”
With seven minutes left, the Bruins had an extended five-on-four when Washington defenseman Dmitry Orlov went down after trying to check Donato, but the Capitals tangled the space in front of Holtby.
Ovechkin sealed it with 1:35 left, three seconds after Halak sprinted to the bench.
“We were the better team tonight, but they’re a really good team over there,” Marchand said. “They find ways to win. That’s why they did so well last year.
“But we had a good effort. We play like that every night, we’re going to win a lot of games.”