Coming off of a tough loss to the despised New York Rangers, the Washington Capitals were set to play their fourth game in five nights in Beantown against a red hot Bruins club. To win, they would need effort from everyone on the roster and superb goaltending.
They received both of those.
Matt Niskanen’s rocket 2:36 into overtime beat Tuukka Rask (28 saves) as the Capitals rode some stellar goaltending from Philipp Grubauer (33 saves) to defeat Boston for the sixth straight time, 2-1.
This was one heck of a hockey game after the Capitals dominated the Rangers on Friday night, but lost due to some big mistakes. Washington had a good start on Saturday, however, it was one of those big mistakes that led to the opposition scoring first, once again. The Caps top line got caught out of position in their own zone and then an unfortunate bounce off of Nicklas Backstrom’s skate went Patrice Bergeron’s way and he deposited the biscuit into the cage just 7:11 into the game. Grubauer had no chance on that one.
Overall, though, it was a solid road period for the Caps and they were unlucky to trail, having outshot the Bruins, 9-7.
In the middle frame, things got very dicey, very quickly. The Bruins appeared to take a 2-0 lead on a rebound goal where the Capitals coverage broke down, but the Washington video coaches notified Coach Barry Trotz that they thought the play was offsides. Sure enough, Loui Eriksson’s skate was up in the air on zone entry and the goal was wiped out.
After surviving that, the next turning point occurred when Alex Ovechkin was given a questionable major for boarding by the overreacting Wes McCauley (the same referee who incorrectly whistled Tom Wilson for a match penalty against Ottawa earlier in the year). Brad Marchand earned a roughing call to negate the first two minutes of the major, but after Mike Richards, who was fabulous in this game, made a great steal and rush up the ice, Wilson was correctly called for interference. That gave the Bruins a five on three advantage for one minute and 49 seconds. Grubauer was spectacular in that sequence and he had some assists from the iron as the B’s hit a couple of posts.
Washington would ride the momentum from that big PK and Karl Alzner scored after carrying the puck deep in the offensive zone. #27 battled along the left wing boards and Ovechkin came in and snagged the biscuit. Ovi alertly spotted Backstrom in the far slot and then #19, with Alzner heading to the net, put one right on King Karl’s stick and he directed it home to tie things up.
The Caps gathered energy from that tying goal and kept pushing, but yet another mental mistake led to a too many dudes infraction. The Capitals penalty killing unit, which was a perfect five for five in 8:09 of shorthanded time, did the job.
As a result of all of the penalties, the Bruins had 20 shots on net in that middle frame, yet the game was still tied heading into the third period.
Normally the team playing the fourth game in five nights would be the one hanging on, but it was the other way around in this one as the Capitals carried the play with 10 shots on goal to just four for Boston. Each team had three minutes of power play time but neither could convert setting the stage for the OT.
In extra time, each club would generate three shots each, but then Marcus Johansson made a strong offensive zone entry and fed Andre Burakovsky just inside the blue line. Young Burra then made a nice cut across move and dropped the puck to Niskanen, who had just come off the bench on a change, and #2 just hammered it past Rask on overtime shot lucky number seven. It was the third time this week that a “Niscannon” blast led to the game winning goal (Oshie tipped his shot home in the win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Niskanen had the GWG against Toronto on Wednesday).
Wow, this was some great hockey game!
It was physical, Wilson fought Adam McQuaid in the first frame, and it was played at a high tempo, end to end pace. Coach Trotz’ crew worked hard all evening and afterwards he commended everyone’s “battle.” Battled was the right word because the Bruins love to play heavy hockey, as do the Caps. For some reason, Washington just seems to get the better of Boston ever since the 2012 playoff series victory. Normally it is Braden Holtby who terrorizes them, but on this night it was Grubauer who did the damage.
The victory improves the Capitals to the century mark in points at 48-13-4. They have an 18 point lead in the Metropolitan Division and are 15 points over the top clubs in the Western Conference. The NHL can just start engraving the Presidents’ Trophy now.
But that is not the hardware this club wants and their play over the weekend, despite losing to the Rags, is encouraging. They were emotionally involved in both hockey games after snoozing through many previous tilts. They still have some things to clean up, but overall the effort was back, and big credit for that goes to the newly cobbled fourth line of Richards, Jay Beagle, and Daniel Winnik. Those guys have pretty much tilted the ice for Washington since they’ve been put together this week. You can’t underestimate what a difference having a line like that makes now and will add in the post season since Coach Trotz can put any of his four lines out on the ice against any opposition line because this club is so deep. General Manager Brian MacLellan, who fixed the blue line in the summer of 2014, and the top six forwards in the summer of 2015, has now, along with Coach Trotz, fixed the bottom six forwards since the beginning of the season with the Richards signing and Winnik trade.
On Sunday, the Capitals will fly to California (I’m going back to Cali, Cali…) for a very difficult three game stretch against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks, the top three clubs in the Pacific Division. It starts on Monday night at 10 against a Ducks squad that has won 11 games in a row to pull a Linda Rondstadter (Blue Bayou, h/t Gary McCord) on the Kings.
To beat these three left coast powerhouses the Capitals will need the type of effort they had against Boston while minimizing the big mistakes.
Get your rest and your caffeine ready for the late night week ahead.
Notes: Niskanen, who was +2, led the Caps in ice time with 26:48…Ovechkin, despite the bogus major penalty, seemed more like himself in this one with nine shot attempts and five shots on goal. He and Zdeno Chara had their usual battle and #33 was called for roughing late in the game for trying to take Ovi’s head off. The Gr8 will face another one of his “buddies” on Monday in Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks…the Caps lost the face off battle, 29-26. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was fabulous despite scoring no goals on seven shots on net, was 8-4…Brooks Orpik logged 22:30 but was cut late in regulation on a clean hit by the Bruins. T.J. Oshie also got hit high early by Chara in this one and stayed in the game…given the “battle” of this contest, it’s safe to say that the Caps will be eating rocks for breakfast on Sunday morning before their all day flight to California.