The Boston Bruins capitalized on some early opportunities and held on to the lead in front of stellar play by goalie Tim Thomas to defeat the Caps 3-1 last night at the Verizon Center. It was the Caps first lost at home this season. Goalie Semyon Varlamov came off the bench to replace a dizzy Michal Neuvirth halfway through the first period. Alex Ovechkin was held to no points for the first time this season by Boston’s tight defense.
The Capitals started the game with some jump in their legs, getting several quality scoring chances in the first and generally dictating the pace of the game. Only some exceptional saves by Bruins goalie Tim Thomas kept the Caps off the scoreboard. Even an early fight between Matt Hendricks and Greg Campbell went in the Caps favor. But the Caps’ trend of allowing odd-man breaks continued to hurt when Milan Lucic sprung Nathan Horton and David Krejci on a two-on-one break with with Krejci converting to give the Bruins the lead. It was the fourth time in six games that the opposing team has scored first on the Caps. Two minutes later, Lucic put back a rebound on a shot by Johnny Boychuk to go up 2-0 with just seven shots on goal.
Moments later, Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth signaled to the bench that he was not feeling well. “He complained of dizziness and a headache,” said coach Bruce Boudreau. “It was the first I heard of it.” Semyon Varlomov came off the bench and the Caps settled down and resumed their up-tempo style with more good scoring chances, but were unable to get anything past Thomas.
The penalty-filled second period saw the teams exchanged power play opportunities, including stretches of 5-on-3 chances for both sides. The Caps penalty kill stayed perfect for the season as they killed off four penalties for the game. The Caps were finally able to score on a one-timer by Marcus Johansson off a pass from Jason Chimera from behind the net at even strength to draw the Caps within one. The Capitals power play, however, was sloppy and could not convert on its chance as the Bruins defense smothered the Caps top unit. Ovechkin was help to one shot on goal in the first two periods while six other shots were blocked. “I thought Krejci’s line outplayed [our top line],” said Boudreau. “I eventually switched the lines up.”
The Caps turned up the heat in the third period playing aggressive dump-and-chase hockey, but the Bruins’ defensemen won the battles in the corner. For their part, the Bruins demonstrated disciplined puck control and made the most of their breaks. Two minutes into the final period, the Bruins created traffic in front of Varlamov and scored on a slapshot from the blue line by defenseman Matt Hunwick to go up 3-1. Boudreau shifted his lines to create more opportunities, and the Caps outshot the Bruins 18-5 for the frame but were unable to solve Thomas.
One comical sequence came late in the third period during a scrum following a face off. The puck seemed to disappear into thin air to the confusion of everyone on the ice. After much searching by players and referees alike, the ref finally blew the whistle. Niklas Backstrom seemed to think the puck had gone up his pant leg as he tried to shake it loose. Slow-motion replay later revealed that the puck had flown up and out of play.
The B’s Lucic completed a Gordie Howe hat trick (a goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game), dropping the gloves to fight Caps defender John Erskine. But the Caps needed goals. They threw everything they had left at the Bruins in the final minutes. Ovechkin played nearly six of the last seven minutes of the game. With a last-minute power play and Varlamov on the bench for an extra attacker, the Caps peppered Thomas but could not get a second goal.
“We played as hard as we have played all season,” said Boudreau after the game. “But you make one mistake and it’s in the net.” The Caps held the Bruins to the fewest shots on goal, made the most hits (lead by Erskine with seven hits), and blocked the most shots all season. “I thought we gave it an honest effort,” said Boudreau.
The Caps will have another shot at Tim Thomas and the Bruins again tomorrow night at the TD Garden in Boston.