April 13, 2012

Caps turned tables, but perseverant Bruins found way to win

By Jesse Connolly

BOSTON – Through 40 minutes of play in Thursday’s series opener between the Bruins and Capitals, it seemed wildly apparent that the Hockey Gods weren’t smiling down upon the Black and Gold. 

Tim Thomas made nine saves in the third period, all of which were crucial for the Bruins. (Dave Arnold Photography)

The B’s were knocking on the proverbial door all night long, peppering rookie goalie Braden Holtby with 26 shots in the first two frames – 17 of which came in the second period – but couldn’t break through. Meanwhile, down the other end of the ice, Tim Thomas needed to stop a mere seven pucks, as the Capitals spent little-to-no time in Boston’s zone.

But when the two teams returned to the ice for the third period, a full-fledged role reversal commenced. Washington was now the territorially-dominant squad, Holtby was sparingly tested and Thomas and Co. were under siege. It seemed like only a matter of time until the Bruins let things slip away.

That moment never came. Thomas stood on his head for virtually the entire third period and the game remained scoreless until the final shot of the night, as Chris Kelly’s goal 1:18 into overtime gave Boston a 1-0 win.

“More often than not, when your team outshoots the other team heavily for a couple of periods, whether you score or not, there’s usually a time period in the game where the tables turn,” Thomas said after the win. “I knew they were going to get their bursts sooner or later. So I was mentally prepared for that going into the third period.”

The B’s were outshot by a 9-3 margin in the third stanza, something Brad Marchand believes can be attributed to Boston being off their game, not the Capitals making drastic strategic changes.

“I think it was more us,” Marchand said. “We just kind of relaxed a little bit and we turned too many pucks over and were giving them too many opportunities to come back on the rush. We were playing a little deeper in their end early on in the game and we kind of got away from that.”

Nevertheless, the Bruins reconvened during the intermission and came back out for overtime unfazed by the fact Washington controlled play in the third.

“We were pretty confident,” Marchand said. “Everyone was staying calm and everyone was really excited to be back in this position. We knew it was only a matter of time. We wanted to play tight defensively and hopefully get that lucky bounce, and we did.”

The man responsible for that lucky bounce felt pretty ecstatic about helping the B’s prevail.

“It was obviously a great feeling,” Kelly said. “I thought we did a great job in the first two periods of getting the puck to the net, and kind of generating some traffic, but I think we got away from that a bit in the third period. Obviously the shot total showed that. Always nice to end it fairly early.”

Going forward, the B’s recognize what they have to do in order to keep Washington from taking over in the same fashion when Game 2 rolls around on Saturday.

“We just have to make sure we get pucks in deep and don’t turn it over,” Marchand said. “They’re very deadly on the rush and in transition, so we have to stay away from that.”

While Marchand repeatedly noted it was a relief to claim victory before the Caps were able to in overtime, he and the rest of his teammates certainly deserve their share of credit for making it through that challenging final 20 minutes in regulation and finding a way to pull it out in the extra session.

“I think our experience from last year was pretty good in overtime as well,” coach Claude Julien said. “We just took the same approach: Just go out there and find a way to win. Let’s not be on our heels, and let’s go after these guys, and as you know, in the playoffs, in overtime, every shot’s a good shot. I thought Chris [Kelly] did a great job here of taking that instead of looking to make a cute play, and it was put in the right spot.

“I thought our team played pretty well, and we stuck to the game plan, and whenever you’re able to shut out a team like Washington and not give them a goal, that’s a good feat in itself. So our guys did a great job there, and again, finding a way to score that one and only goal that both teams needed to win was nice to see Kelly get that.”

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.