The Washington Capitals rode high into this Sunday matinee against the Boston Bruins on the heels of back-to-back victories against quality opponents in the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins. And while it seemed for a moment like the stakes for this home stretch towards the playoffs would be non-existent with playoff seeding locked, a Penguins losing streak has opened the window for the Caps to climb out of a very difficult first-round wildcard matchup.
Here’s what the Caps lines looked like, with Nicklas Backstrom getting a late scratch, for maintenance purposes according to the team, and Connor Sheary drawing back in after missing some time with a non-COVID illness.
Here’s Sunday afternoon’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: John Carlson stayed hot, opening the scoring with another 5v5 blast. He’s now got three goals and seven points in his last three times out, and if John Carlson can play at the top of his game when things matter most, that’s going to go a long way towards making this team a true contender.
Minus: The Caps continue to be able to get a game without a questionable goal allowed from the netminders. It wasn’t quite the smoking gun as Ilya Samsonov’s softies from yesterday were, but Vanecek was beaten clean over the glove on Eric Haula’s goal, despite an angle and shooter-handedness that favored the goalie. You might give a different goaltender the benefit of the doubt on a play like that, but the benefit of the doubt is something that no one in the net for DC has earned.
Some more notes on the game:
- The Capitals weathered an early storm by the Bruins, killing off three Boston powerplays, and played to a scoreless first period. It looked like Trent Frederic got the Bruins off to a fast start, lighting the lamp before the game was eight minutes old, but the goal was taken off the board on account of Frederic kicking the puck into the net.
- After putting up big numbers on yesterday’s shot counter, it took about nine minutes of game time before the Caps put rubber on Linus Ullmark, bringing the shot battle from 5-0 Bruins to 5-1 Bruins. The Caps would close the gap on this front, and the two teams went into the first intermission with the Bruins having a 9-7 advantage in shots, with two powerplay opportunities under their belts to the Caps none.
- Early in the second period, Nick Jensen made an outstanding play in Vitek Vanecek's crease to reach through a Bruin forward’s legs, who had inside position on a loose puck, to sweep the puck away to safety and keep the game scoreless.
- After a sleepy first period, the two teams woke up in the second stanza combining for four goals. John Carlson got the scoring started with under 16 minutes remaining with a wicked slapshot above the right circle to give Washington the lead. It was Carlson’s 14th goal of the season, bringing him one shy of his career-best mark.
- Shortly thereafter Lars Eller would take the Caps’ third consecutive penalty, and Eller’s fifth penalty in his last five times out...
- Under five minutes later, Vitek Vanecek lost his net with a frenzy in front and Curtis Lazar tapped the puck in to bring the game even.
- And they took the lead exactly one minute later when Eric Haula blasted a puck from the left circle over Vitek Vanecek’s glove, which looked nearly identical to Dmitry Orlov’s goal from yesterday...which is to say, not great for the goaltender. Tip of the cap to Haula for a nice shot, but getting beat clean by a left-handed shot from the left circle is reliably a save for a better netminder. The goal was Haula’s six-goal in eight games to give Boston the 2-1 advantage.
- With 5:10 remaining a turnover in the Bruins’ defensive zone, Tom Wilson collected in a Lars Eller rebound on the doorstep of Linus Ullmark’s crease and banked it puck through the five-hole to make it a 2-2 game. The tally, Wilson’s 23rd set a new career-high in addition to a personal best of 50 points on the season.
- With 12:42 remaining, Lars Eller took the puck from behind the Bruins bench and snuck the puck off the short side on a deflection off of Erik Haula’s skate to stake Washington the one-goal lead. The goal was Eller’s second point of the day and the tenth of the beleaguered veteran’s season.
10. The Captain sent the fans home happy with an empty-net goal with just 1.7 seconds left in regulation to salt away the victory, 4-2. Ovechkin, who now has 13 goals in his last 17 games, tallied his 45th goal of the season and the 775th of his NHL career.
Washington put on a strong showing in the second of back-to-back matinee games, this one following a travel day no less, earning four points over division rivals whom they look up to in the standings. The Caps play host to the Flyers on Tuesday before embarking on a five-game road trip that includes three contests against western conference opponents. While Washington’s playoff prospects are just about solidified heading into the season’s homestretch, the response shown by the squad after back-to-back drubbings earlier this week offers encouraging signs for the team and the fans with the postseason looming.