In a game the Capitals had to have to stay in the series, their best players came through in the clutch. Alex Ovechkin was more than just a physical presence on the ice, setting up the Capitals’ first goal and threatening Bruins goalie Tim Thomas all night. When it really mattered, the Capitals’ #1 center coolly put the game away with a wrist shot past last season’s playoff MVP. Nicklas Backstrom had been paying the price all night in front of Thomas, and it was only fitting that he be the one to keep the Capitals’ hopes alive.
The Capitals were more threatening right from the start of the game. Just over a minute into the game, Alexander Ovechkin broke loose into the Boston zone on a breakout pass from Brooks Laich. As he cut to the goal, hulking Bruins defender Zdeno Chara held him, drawing a powerplay for the Capitals. That play marked the first time Ovechkin got free at even strength in the series and was a harbinger of things to come. On the ensuing powerplay, the Capitals maintained offensive zone pressure and fired 5 shots on Thomas, putting the Bruins back on their heels early and setting the tone they never really established in Game 1.
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After the early powerplay, the vaunted Bruins attack started threatening. They quickly evened out the shot meter and forced Mike Green into a hooking penalty. Once again, the Capitals’ penalty kill was expertly executed (2/2 on the night) and kept the Bruins at bay. The Capitals were mostly adept at keeping Zdeno Chara from winding up his slap shot, but the one time he did, Jeff Schultz took the shot off his visor. As the period unfolded, the Capitals had a disjointed second powerplay chance, but regrouped for a decent one in the second period. Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green were the keys to the Capitals pressure, and Brooks Laich nearly had a couple goals on a deflection and a rebound, but the Caps still finished 0/3.
The Capitals were much more disciplined in this game than in Game 1, but were still guilty of a selfish penalty. Early in the second period, Roman Hamrlik was clearing the crease in front of Braden Holtby and took a few shoves from Brad Marchand. After the whistle, he retaliated by cross-checking Marchand, earning himself a penalty. Considering #6 defenseman Jeff Schultz only played 14 of 83 minutes tonight, it was not a smart way to take himself off the ice, and it certainly contributed to the territorial advantage the Bruins held in the second period.
Once again, the big story in this game was the goaltenders. Both goalies dealt with traffic all night and excelled at making saves in spite of it. Brooks Laich especially had his rump in Thomas’s face all night, setting screens and waiting for rebounds, but Thomas was adroit at ensuring there were no rebounds to be had. At the other end, Holtby gave up his share of rebounds, but once again the Capitals’ defenders didn’t let the Bruins do any damage. The puck-moving defense corps assembled by George McPhee was able to do what they couldn’t in the playoffs last year: break the opponent’s cycle and get the puck out of the zone. Both sides had a few glorious chances to score, but neither side was able to dent the twine until late in the second period.
Troy Brouwer, brought from Chicago for exactly these types of games, drove the net as Alex Ovechkin pushed down the left wing with the puck. Free from the blanketing coverage of Chara and Sedienberg but marked by veteran winger Brian Rolston, Ovechkin circled back to the point and fired a centering pass that hit Bruin defender Greg Zanon on the hands. As the puck dropped to the ice, Zanon and Thomas tried to cover the it, but Brouwer beat them both and poked the loose puck through the goalie’s pads. It took 99 minutes for the Capitals to solve Thomas, but they had their first goal and lead of the series.
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The physical tone was once again present in spades in this game. Backstrom is quite capable of taking a beating and making his own space in the offensive zone, and he drew a hooking penalty on Chris Kelly in the first period and was a nuisance for the Bruins all night. Both sides took liberties with the other, but the referees swallowed their whistles after the obvious Brad Marchand high-sticking penalty midway through the second. Backstrom had his face full of Bruins in a scrum to end the second period and took a beating from three Bruins in front of the cage late in the third period, but no penalties were called.
The Capitals were excellent at keeping the Bruins at bay and at blocking shots until 12 minutes into the third period. At that point the Bruins’ line of Kelly, Rolston, and Pouliot pressed the attack. Kelly left a drop pass for Rolston, who fired. Rolston’s shot was blunted, but the puck trickled into the slot as Jeff Schultz searched for it. Braden Holtby dove out to poke the puck away, but Benoit Pouliot won the race and put the puck in the back of the net, tying the match and bringing the hibernating crowd back to life. When the clock ticked to zero, the Capitals had stared down the gauntlet once again and were far more ready for sudden death that they had been on Thursday.
Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin had been playing exceptional hockey all night in all three zones even before overtime. Once the extra session got underway, Semin made several excellent defensive plays and nearly ended the game on the first shift when John Carlson fed him the puck alone at the Boston blueline. As the Bruins scrambled to make up for a bad line change, Semin fired the puck just wide of Thomas. Not until nearly three minutes had gone by in double overtime did Dale Hunter’s line juggling pay off to bring Johansson to that line. Off an offensive zone faceoff, Johansson followed the puck into the corner and fed it to a wide open Nicklas Backstrom. With ice water in his veins, Backstrom made no mistake, beating Tim Thomas past his blocker from the left faceoff dot. That line will continue to be a thorn in the Bruins’ side for the rest of the series.
The Capitals won the faceoff battle tonight, and it was a large factor in them winning. Backstrom won 11 of 19 draws on the evening, and Laich improved slightly (5/15), but mostly because he took fewer draws. Jay Beagle was dominant in the faceoff circle (11/17), and especially so in overtime. He played a major part in making Bruins #1 center David Krejci (1/9) a non-factor. Krejci was obviously limited by his neck injury, and the Boston fans were noticeably keeping their hands away from the glass. They will probably keep their hands away for Game 5, too, as the Capitals have ensured the series will go at least that far.