What we learned: Caps extend hex
Starting to get that feel-good sense about the Black and Gold just 11 days before Christmas? Nine wins in their last 11 games have Bruce Cassidy’s gang locked into third place in the Atlantic Division.
Just a month ago, any playoff hopes were, well, just hopes.
Wednesday night, a come-from-behind win in OT at Detroit to start one of the team’s most aggressive stretches of the season with seven games in 11 days – five at home – ending two days before Christmas.
Let’s hold all that warmth a bit.
Pick the best barometer so far about what this team is made of, and it might just be these next three all at home against Washington, the Rangers and Columbus, all legitimate contenders for June play.
First things first, the Bruins and Capitals tied for the most points in the Eastern Conference over the last 10 games. The Bruins, however, winless in their last 10 games against the Capitals; their last victory way back in March, 2014. It’s their longest winless streak against any opponent.
Anton Khudobin at 7-1-2 vs. Braden Holtby’s 17-7-0; Holtby 12-2-0 with a 1.81 GAA in 14 career games against the Bruins.
Before the game, Caps coach Barry Trotz said about the home team: “They’ve got speed, they’ve got intelligence, they’ve got a great work ethic and they are hard to play against.”
“We talked before the game about what we had to do,” Khudobin said. “And we didn’t get it done.”
Here’s what we learned as Trotz’s team was just a bit better in all four categories and the Bruins, indeed, did not get it done as Washington extended their Black-and-Gold superiority for another meeting between the two in a 5-3 win.
Washington 13-0-1 when leading after first 20 minutes
That stat was offset by Boston’s third-ranked penalty kill.
After a Lars Eller rebound past Khudobin off a left-point blast by Christian Djoos went for naught at 2:16 when the replay showed an offside, the Caps power play went on display three times.
Boston held serve on all three.
At 17:34, a streaking Jakub Vrana blew between Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk at center ice and muscled his way solo to twine to put that aforementioned stat in Boston’s crosshairs for the next 40 minutes.
And another: Boston 0-6-1 when trailing after one.
Bergeron and Backstrom exchange PP goals
A Brad Marchand feed from Holtby’s left to Patrice Bergeron knotted the game at 1-1 at 4:42; Danton Heinen also assisting.
A Nicklas Backstrom gimme tip-in from Evgeny Kuznetsov at 12:05 put Washington back on top.
The B’s outshot the Caps 13-3 in the middle 20.
“I thought, the second period, we played really well,” Cassidy said, “and even though we each scored one goal, we were the better team, and that’s kind of where it, in hindsight, it had went better for us, I think we would’ve had more energy down the stretch to come back.”
Too little too late as wild final 20 minutes extends ‘Caps dominance
David Backes hit iron five minutes in and Boston had the man-advantage with nine minutes left. But Alex Chiasson redirected a Djoos shot passed Khodobin in between at 6:52 to put Washington up, 3-1. And on that Bruins power play, Chiasson went 160 feet on a breakaway from between the Boston dots, taking Khudobin to school on a clean shorthanded backhander at 12:31.
At 16:20, David Krejci pumped some life back into TD Garden when he tipped a shot by Charlie McAvoy past Holtby; Jake DeBrusk also assisting.
Cassidy pulled his goaltender with two minutes to go and Alex Ovechkin played a little billiards, banking a 75-foot shot from his right dasher to the center ice left dasher. The puck caromed off, finding the Boston goal crease for a 5-2 lead.
A Bergeron PP tally with 26 seconds left survived a goaltender interference challenge for the 5-3 final; Heinen and Krejci assisting.
The goal, the 266th of his career, eclipsed Bobby Orr’s 265 on Causeway Street.
“I didn’t even know that,” Bergeron said modestly. “It’s not something that I’m really thinking about to be honest with you. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Orr.”
“You know I love my old Bruins,” Cassidy said about the milestone, “Bobby Orr the most, but good for Patrice. The more he scores the more he helps us win.”
“In the past, against the Caps – at least in my experience here – we seem to wait around to see what would happen and then get behind and then react to it,” Cassidy said about the overall performance. “So we were hoping we could set the tempo, and try to be physical, more assertive, control the play early against a team that was sitting here, waiting for us, and we played the night before. It might’ve been a tall task, but that’s how I felt we needed to play against Washington. There’s been too much of chasing the game, and as it turned out, we ended up doing that again.”
“We knew it was a challenge for us being back to back,” added Bergeron. “It’s a team we want to beat and we have to beat. It’s big points and we know that we haven’t been successful. So we have to take it on ourselves to be better.”
How do you spell relief from the Washington spell over Boston? Maybe December 28 in DC.
For now, two more big points are on the line Saturday in a 5:00 pm start against the Broadway Blueshirts.