Miracles do happen this time of year, as anyone leaving TD Garden Monday night would attest.
The Bruins, aching for some holiday cheer, pumped home five pucks in the first 40 minutes and cruised, 7-3, past the league-best Capitals.
That lifted them to the three-day holiday break at 22-7-9, with a 9-point edge on second-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division. They are 4 points behind Washington (26-7-5), which, once the rout was on, showed that any potential playoff meeting between the teams would surely be a nasty one.
The teams combined for 40 minutes in penalties, hardly a blip on yesteryear’s radar but a weighty total in today’s lighter, faster game. The Capitals, down four goals for most of this one, were the aggressors, with battleship Tom Wilson picking up a third-period misconduct after a scuffle that began when he speared David Pastrnak below the belt.
“There were a few incidents tonight where [NHL] Player Safety might be a little bit busy,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, noting that a similar Brad Marchand spear would be certain fodder for Toronto. Marchand agreed.
But Marchand — and five other teammates — could point to the scoreboard for the final word. They rode that first-period barrage, and while their game wasn’t by any means poor in the final 40 minutes, they didn’t have to mash the throttle.
The Capitals were unable to poke many holes in Tuukka Rask despite outshooting the home team, 34-6, over the last two periods. He allowed three goals on 42 shots.
Rask made big penalty-kill stops on Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie in the first period, and saw volume in the final 40. The Bruins had one shot in the first 14 minutes of the second period (Charlie Coyle’s shorty), and were outshot, 17-2, in the frame.
Rask, winless in his previous five (0-2-3) and fighting his game a bit, surrendered an Ovechkin ripper from the slot that no goalie would have stopped. Rask gave up a power-play blast to Lars Eller with 4:31 left, after the Bruins were called for too many men on the ice. Garnet Hathaway chipped home a loose puck with 2:13 left, young defenseman Connor Clifton surrendering the space on a long dump-in.
All in all, he was prime-time Tuukka.
“We got up early, finished our plays around the top of their crease, and we got our saves when we needed them,” Cassidy said. “They had their push in the second, good saves. Tuukka was solid.”
The 1-4-4 slide Boston took into Monday’s game was all but forgotten at 5:37 of the first period, when Jake DeBrusk scored the first of the Bruins’ four goals in the frame.
Marchand, Anders Bjork, and Patrice Bergeron added three more early ones, chasing Washington netminder Braden “Holly Jolly” Holtby (four goals on 11 shots) after the opening 20. Backup Ilya Samsonov allowed a shorthanded goal to Coyle, on one of just two shots he faced in the middle period.
David Krejci cashed an empty-netter with 3:10 left, and Bergeron added another with 28 seconds remaining, giving the Bruins their second-highest goal total of the year. The Bruins last scored more than four in an 8-1 beatdown at rival Montreal on Nov. 26.
Last year’s pre-holiday game was a stinker, a sloppy 5-3 loss one year ago in Carolina. This year, the Bruins were ready to hit the break on a pleasant note.
“It had been a while since we were in the winner’s circle here,” Cassidy said. “A good Washington team that’s had our number [winning 16 of 17 previous meetings]. And it’s going into the break . . . you’d like it to be a good memory.”
Friday at Buffalo, the Bruins would like another. Sharp of stick and quick of skate, they earned their breaks. (About time, came the call from the Gallery Gods.) They were 2 for 4 on the power play in the first period alone, driving their legs into five stick fouls in the first 40 minutes.
The Bruins drew a pair of offensive-zone penalties in the first 5:28 of the game. On the second, they needed nine seconds of PP time before DeBrusk jammed home a second-effort goal. Similar work from Marchand, at 13:29, when he was first to a Pastrnak rebound and poked it home.
As Marchand’s goal was being announced, Bjork found a loose puck in the slot and whacked it past Holtby. Credit Sean Kuraly for forechecking hard to set up the goal, Boston’s second in 27 seconds.
“All three of them were greasy goals,” Cassidy said. “Something we hadn’t done enough of [lately].”
Some of Boston’s trademark top-line skill made it 4-0. On a 5-on-3, Pastrnak zipped a no-look pass to Bergeron, who expertly deflected the puck into inches of short-side space.
To make it 5-0, a shorthanded Marchand outworked two Capitals in the neutral zone before pushing the puck to a streaking Coyle.
It got nasty in the third period, the Capitals embarrassed. Wilson skated by Pastrnak and tapped him in the groin with his stick.
“He got me pretty good,” Pastrnak said.
After an angry scuffle in which Pastrnak, Wilson, and Marchand were the principals, Wilson was shown the door.
“Almost felt like playoff hockey,” Pastrnak said. “That’s what it takes to beat this team. We’re happy we got this big win.
“We won’t be pushed by anybody. We answer.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports.