The Boston Bruins seem to bring out the best in Nicklas Backstrom.
Washington’s number one center had a beast of an evening against the B’s at the Verizon Center notching a goal and two helpers as the Caps pulled away for a 5-3 victory.
It was #19’s great saucer pass up the middle of the ice that set up T.J. Oshie for a breakaway goal just 3:06 into this contest and then later in the opening frame he buried the rebound of a Matt Niskanen point shot.
The Capitals looked like they were going to be in command of this one early, but then the Bruins, who rallied from a 3-0 hole in DC earlier in the season before losing in OT on a Backstrom goal, came back with two power play goals by pesky Brad Marchand to tie things up just 2:49 into period two. Boston started to take over the game for a good portion of that stanza, much like the Islanders did to the Caps on Tuesday in Brooklyn after a power play goal. Somehow, though, Coach Barry Trotz’ crew found another gear.
Marcus Johansson, who did stellar work winning many board battles in this one, drew a late second period penalty. That set the stage for Alex Ovechkin to score a huge goal with 15 seconds remaining in period two. The Gr8 took a pass from Niskanen and with Jojo screening in front, he snapped it by Tuukka “0 for the Verizon Center” Rask for his 25th marker of the season.
The Caps, who only had nine shots on net in the first 35 minutes, would take command of the last part of the period and earned a 36-31 shot attempt advantage.
Just 3:29 into period three, Washington regained their two goal lead on a pretty passing play set up by a great rush by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzy skated in the zone with speed on the right side of the ice and fed a hard charging Dmitry Orlov in the high slot. #9 then made a great pass to Brett Connolly, who went to his back hand and put the biscuit in the basket. It was #10’s ninth goal of the season and he continues to play extremely well on the third line with Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller.
From there, Boston would make a big push, but they couldn’t dent the Holtbeast (30 saves) until after Kuznetsov made it 5-2 with 4:07 left after a great feed from Tom Wilson. Wilson, after some strong board work by Johansson and Niskanen, stole the puck on the fore check and fed #92 cruising in the slot and he made no mistake about it.
Boston would finally get an even strength goal with 1:31 to go, but the game was over.
What was big about this contest was the Capitals received great performances from their top two centers, Backstrom (3 points) and Kuznetsov (2 points). They outplayed the Bruins strong pivot duo of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and that’s the main reason why the Caps were able to win a game against a team fighting for playoff position.
The biggest negative in this tilt was the Capitals penalty killing unit, which is struggling. They’ve allowed too many PPG’s lately and they seem to have lost some of their aggressiveness. I’m not sure if the downturn has coincided with the flu bug going through the team or the lack of practice, but it’s an area they need to get back on track? It takes a lot of energy and structure to be consistently successful on the PK and Washington hasn’t had a lot of either while shorthanded in the last eight to 10 games.
Overall, though, Coach Trotz has to be happy with the play of his top three lines. With Justin Williams missing the game due to a lower body injury, Jay Beagle jumped up on the second line. That weakened the fourth line and forced the other three units to play more, but Backstrom owns the Bruins, much like Braden Holtby does, too. The Holtbeat is now 10-0-0 in his last 12 starts, overall. #70 was solid in net again after being the MVP, at least in my book, in Sunday’s NHL All Star Game.
Special teams weren’t the best for Washington on Wednesday night, as they allowed two goals on three shorthanded situations, but Ovechkin’s power play goal with just 15 seconds to go in period two was so important, as NBC’s Keith Jones pointed out in the intermission.
As for Rask, well he’s still never won at the Verizon Center and is now 1-9-5 in his career against the Caps (h/t @ThePeerless).
With the victory, the Capitals improve to 34-11-6 (74 points). Despite losing three times to the Islanders in regulation, they still lead the NHL standings. The Blue Jackets are four points back, but have two games in hand, though, as do the Penguins, who are seven points back. Columbus and Pittsburgh play each other on Friday night in Steel town.
Notes: Washington won the face off battle against a Bruins team that is good on draws, 30-26. Chandler Stephenson, who played with Stick out of the lineup, was 5-2…John Carlson played his second straight game after missing several games due to injury and led the team in ice time with 22:40. He was +2 and very solid on the back end…final shot attempts were 63-47 for Boston, but that was mostly score effects as the Caps had a 36-31 advantage after two frames…Kuznetsov was named the NHL’s first star of the month for the great January he produced (20 points in 15 games)…next up for the Caps are the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre at 1 pm on Saturday.