Well, that was unexpected.
The Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins entered Tuesday night’s game at Verizon Center on polar opposites of the momentum spectrum.
The Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup Champions who have rolled all season and have a ridiculous plus-71 goal differential, were coming off a 6-5 win over the Flyers on Sunday. The Capitals, owners of a minus-three goal differential, had lost three of four, struggling to find consistency all season. They were missing a full third of their payroll and their three biggest stars.
The script was set perfectly for a Boston Massacre, as it were.
So, naturally, the Capitals were 5-3 winners in what was a huge victory heading into the All-Star break.
No, the Capitals did not execute an excellent game plan; they did not beat down the most physical team in the NHL with aggressive forechecking. They were out-muscled along the boards often, made silly passes, and were dominated for stretches by a clearly superior hockey team.
Instead, they rode a hat trick from tiny Mathieu Perreault, who was playing on the top line for the second game in a row to help compensate for the loss of Ovechkin, to their biggest win of the season.
“This is the best feeling ever,” said a red-eyed Perreault in the locker room afterwards. “Getting three goals and we win the game, this is awesome. This is what you dream of. You dream to play in the NHL, but when you score three goals, it’s even better.”
Washington got lucky on several of their goals, including Cody Eakin’s and Perreault’s first. They got very lucky with several Bruins chances in their own end and, as per usual over the last month, needed a great performance from Tomas Vokoun to stay on top and win the game.
But the Capitals as a team showed incredible pluck and resiliency for the second game in a row, in fact. Having fallen behind in this game on a very unlucky bounce just like they fell behind early Sunday in Pittsburgh, they bore down in their own building and got the job done.
That being said, no one should be fooled here, and I honestly don’t think many people will be. The Capitals still have several holes, even with Ovechkin in the lineup, that need to be addressed, none more critical than a new center for the second line.
The Bruins exposed this weakness, like all good teams do, forcing Washington’s defenders to stretch and therefore making the centers do more work. In general, they struggled, and it wasn’t a coincidence that the Bruins got good chances in front because of it.
Nevertheless, it’s not often that a team as depleted and one with as many flaws as the Capitals have are able to beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Two points is two points against a team like Bruins.
It was a crazy game, one with many ups and downs in terms of momentum, by the end of the game, it sounded like the roof was going to blow off the Verizon Center. The fans knew how big this game was.
So did the players, and it only showed with how hard they worked to help close out the victory.
“The guys buckled down, and they won the game,” said Dale Hunter. “They wanted to win it. They really wanted to win bad.”
With six days to recuperate between now and their next practice, bruises will heal. Bones will ache a little less. Washington has a chance to get their legs back under them, something they need desperately.
The second half is absolutely murderous, particularly March. The Caps have three more games with Boston, two of which are in TD Garden, and two visits to Madison Square Garden, one of which is on the final day of the season and could have huge playoff implications. They have a road back to back against Chicago (19-5-4 at home) and Detroit (20-2-1 at home). They go to Philadelphia.
That shouldn’t be the focus now, though. The Capitals just beat the Stanley Cup Champions. That doesn’t solve their problems and it doesn’t make them great again.
But damn, does it feel good.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.