The Bruins have been streaky this season, but they’ve also been resilient in the face of injuries and had been able to save some of their best hockey for the close of the season. However, after yet another set of injuries, the tipping point may have been reached. The Bruins began Saturday’s game with a chance to secure the No. 3 spot in the Atlantic Division with a win over the Washington Capitals—such a victory would’ve also put pressure on the Ottawa Senators to keep winning in order to maintain home-ice advantage. The Capitals, for their part, had already locked up the President’s Trophy, and had very little to play for. It seemed like a recipe for the first Bruins victory against the Capitals in the last nine tries.
We went off-script fairly quickly, though—while the Capitals started back-up Philipp Grubauer in net, and played without injured DMan John Carlson & also scratched ex-Bruin Brett Connolly, no one else from the Capitals core took a break on Saturday—Washington wraps up the season with Florida today, so maybe Barry Trotz decided that it was better to use this game as a playoff tune-up than as an opportunity to rest his stars. Whatever the case, the Bruins were facing the regular Washington roster minus the above players. And Bruce Cassidy elected to do it with Anton Khudobin in net instead of Tuukka Rask.
The subject of getting Rask enough rest to remain effective has been a popular and important topic over the last couple seasons, but it has to be said this was a surprising move. This being Game 82 of the season for the B’s, and it being likely that Wednesday would be their first playoff game, there was ample opportunity to put Rask in net today to try and keep the pressure on Ottawa. Khudobin has played well of late, but the back-up netminder would have a forgettable afternoon in surrendering three goals on 24 shots before leaving after the second period with a stomach bug.
And the game started pretty ominously as well. After a chance at the Washington defensive end, the Capitals’ Marcus Johansson carried up ice on what appeared to be on a 3-on-3 at first—perhaps a more dangerous one given the the Caps had created space, but still—which then quickly became a 3-on-2 when Frank Vatrano went over the boards to change-up at a dubious time. Ryan Spooner, who came on Vatrano, had no chance to catch up to the play. Suddenly with a 3-on-2 against two confused Bruins defenders, who appeared to be holding their gaps as if expecting a back-checker, Johansson ran as easy a give-and-go with line-mate Evgeni Kuznetsov as you’ll ever see, with ended with Johansson tapping the puck past a deked Khudobin on the backhand. It was 1-0 only five minutes in, and it had been far too easy.
The next blow came a couple minutes later. Already playing the game without Torey Krug—whose status was listed as a very vague-and-definitely worrisome “day-to-day”—the Bruins lost one of their six DMan who were healthy enough to start the game when Alex Ovechkin rode Brandon Carlo into the boards. While Ovechkin did pull up when he seemed to realize Carlo was in a dangerous position, the non-penalty call on the play seemed like a mistake since Carlo losing his balance appeared to have something to do with an Ovechkin hook right as the two went into the Boston right corner.
Regardless, the end result was the Bruins playing the rest of the game with five defenseman from 13:07 of the first. The Bruins, after a slow start, would start getting into the game, but the first ended 1-0 Washington. The game would continue being reasonably back-and-forth, though chippy—the Bruins had to kill one penalty in the late first (a Matt Beleskey hook), and Washington had to kill off a Bruins Power Play after the Capitals took exception with what appeared to be fairly incidental leg on leg contact of Colin Miller against the Caps’ Tom Wilson. Jay Beagle drew the extra minor penalty during that incident by boarding Miller rather obviously after the latter had fallen to his knees near the boards. No doubt there’s a lot of people who’ll say Ovechkin’s hit was the dirty one of interest, but if you ask this humble blogger I’ll 100% say that Beagle’s was the suspension worthy one.
Unfortunately, the Bruins’ Power Play was in Stanley Cup Year form—they couldn’t do shit, in other words—so the game stayed 1-0 through Beagle’s penalty. It also stayed 1-0 through Evgeni Kuznetsov hooking Riley Nash 37 seconds after the Capitals “killed” the Bruins first Power Play.
Things finally didn’t stay 1-0 when Drew Stafford made a hard net drive late in the second. Sprung by a turnover forced by Miller, Stafford was driven past the puck and into the post by Brooks Orpik, but a crashing Miller whacked the puck into the open side of the net just as it was coming off its moorings. In the first of approximately eight thousand reviews that took place in the last five minutes of this period, the goal was reviewed and upheld.
The Bruins have developed a habit this year—which has continued under Cassidy in the games where they haven’t gotten good results—of conceding a goal in the next five minutes after scoring themselves, and sadly that tendency reared its ugly head only 56 seconds after Miller’s game-tying goal. Ovechkin fed the puck to Nicklas Backstrom across the slot to the left circle, and Backstrom brought the puck down low before somehow sliding a pass in-between four Bruins to deadline acquisition Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk, crashing into the slot, sniped the top right corner by Khudobin, and it was 2-1. This play was also reviewed, because Zdeno Chara ran into the post. It was also upheld. Shattenkirk wouldn’t be so lucky when he thought he’d scored another goal with 2:27 left in the second, as the tally was—you guessed it—reviewed and waved off due to (let’s say) very-well-sold contact by Justin Williams on Khudobin.
However, with less than minute in the period, the Capitals legitimately tallied their third goal when Carlson’s substitute, Nate Schmidt, foudn Kuznetsov in the right circle. Kuznetsov, bumped a perfect, quick pass across to Williams, who snapped the puck by Khudobin before the goalie—or really any of the Bruins—had caught up to what was happening. 3-1 after 2.
As mentioned, Khudobin left the game, displaying flu-like symptoms. As mentioned, the Bruins simply didn’t appear to have anything left in the tank late in this one, only mustering 7 SOG in the final frame despite being down two. Rask played well in subbing for Doby, but Tuukka still hasn’t found a way to score this season, so his saves were in vain. By the time the game sputtered to a merciful end, the Bruins had been outshot 32-22 in one of their weakest offensive efforts under Cassidy. Yes, it’s true there was no Brad Marchand today, and the DMan injuries are piling up, but it was still a little jarring how dead Boston’s legs looked in the third.
Having lost 3-1, the Bruins got no good news on the scoreboard either, as the Ottawa Senators easily disposed of the New York Rangers, 3-1, in one of the other afternoon game. And then the evening slate saw the Toronto Maple Leafs defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, on a late third-period goal by Conor Brown. This leaves the Bruins in the ineviable position of being stuck in the 8 seed (and facing Washington) if the Leafs manage a point tomorrow against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Boston would face Ottawa in the 2-3 Atlantic match-up if the Leafs lose in regulation tomorrow.
Finally, I’d be remiss in not noting that Jakub Forsbacka Karlsson did make his debut for the Bruins in this game, and thus might be the only player on the B’s who’ll look back fondly on this one. He finished with 8:25 TOI. Good on ya, Jakub.
The Bruins have to play the waiting game to find out who their first-round opponent will be. While I’d say everyone’s more than happy to have the B’s back in the playoffs no matter the draw, I’ll also add that I’m a Columbus fan for the day.