The Washington Capitals lost game three of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal on Monday night, falling to the Boston Bruins 4-3 inside Verizon Center in the series’ first game that did not head to overtime. The Capitals led the game twice by one goal on markers from Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin, respectively, before allowing the Bruins to tie it and then take the lead early in the third period. The Caps would tie it on a Brooks Laich breakaway goal with exactly six minutes left in the period, but Zdeno Chara scored the winner late in regulation to give the Cup champs a huge game three win. Game four in Thursday night at Verizon Center.
Energized by a loud and raucous Verizon Center crowd, the game started on a physical note, with big hits on both sides, including another epic collision between Alex Ovechkin and Dennis Seidenberg. The Bruins were awarded a power play after only two minutes, but as had been the case for the entire series, the Caps’ penalty kill thwarted Boston’s dynamic offensive players with the man advantage. Play continued in a back and forth manner with many chances until there was 4:29 left in the period, when Zdeno Chara was boxed for a weak roughing call on Brooks Laich.
The Capitals were quick to convert on their man advantage, as Alex Semin collected a puck at the top of the offensive zone and snapped it through a screen and Tim Thomas’ five hole for a 1-0 lead. Boston, however, responded well, earning a power play of their own two minutes later. But once again, the home sides’ shorthanded unit exceucted a methodical kill, keeping the Bruins off the board and not losing their cool despite Milan Lucic cross-checking recently concussed center Nicklas Backstrom away from the play.
Starting the second period four-on-four because of penalties called on Backstrom and Lucic, the Bruins pulled even less than a minute in when Rich Peverley roared down the left wing and popped a shot over Holtby’s glove. But it would take the Caps only 13 seconds to respond, as Brooks Laich chipped a long pass down the ice that Alex Ovechkin one-timed past a stunned Thomas to re-take the lead. Washington would keep up the pressure and got another power play with 15 minutes left in the middle frame, but it was negated after a tripping call on Backstrom.
But again, the Bruins would find their equalizer, as Daniel Paille went to the net, collected a rebound from a Greg Zanon shot, and potted a goal around Holtby’s outstretched glove. After the goal, the game once again picked up as physical play abounded and there were several large hits. Despite some great plays down the stretch by both teams, including two brilliant saves by Thomas on Jay Beagle, the game remained 2-2 through 40 minutes.
Just as they had in the second period, the Bruins scored very early in the third period, as Brian Rolston crashed the net and banged a loose puck past a down and out Holtby, giving the Bruins their first lead of the series at the 62 second mark. Boston was given another chance to open up a two goal lead when Jason Chimera speared Brad Marchand in front of the net during a scrum, but once again, the stout Washington PK held firm. After more nasty play that extended to the midway mark of the final period, the Capitals earned another power play when Seidenberg got Backstrom up high with a hit that sent the center into the boards. Washington was not able to convert with the extra man, however.
But the Capitals would tie the game soon after their power play expired, as Brooks Laich took advantage of a long outlet pass by Backstrom and a blown coverage by Chara to break away from the pack and roof a goal past Thomas. Soon afterwards, though, the Caps were sent to the penalty kill once more as Backstrom shoved Marchand into the boards in the offensive zone. Milan Lucic and Matt Hendricks would get matching minors for roughing, but the four on four would work to the Bruins advantage, as Chara ripped a slap shot that was tipped into the top corner by Roman Hamrlik to give the Bruins a 4-3 lead. Washington pressed late with an empty net, but fell 4-3 despite a valiant effort.
Nicklas Backstrom is incredible. The Caps’ best player was just that all night, creating plays, being smart with the puck, and playing in all three zones. His outlet pass to Laich on the third goal was a beautiful play that very few in the NHL could have made. It’s a shame it came in a losing effort, but it is beyond spectacular that Nicky has been able to stay brilliant despite his long layoff. Despite his brilliance, however, he was assessed a match penalty at the end of regulation for a cross check on Rich Peverley, meaning unless the league rescinds his penalty, he is out for game four.
Braden Holtby, for all his brilliance in games one and two, was not as good on Monday. His poor rebound control contributed to two of the Bruins’s goals and the first goal was inexcusable. As I said before, he’s been great and he helped steal game two, but he has to make some of the easier saves in a game like this.
Now, it’s on. The Bruins reclaimed home ice advantage with this win, and it was a big one for them. They have the momentum now. It will be very interesting to see how the Capitals respond to this one, especially after leading the game for stretches.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.