It was the second time in the past 10 days and the third meeting of the season between the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference, and once again this one had the feel of a playoff game. Great goaltending, solid defense, and hard hitting were rampant as a sold-out crowd at the TD Banknorth Garden welcomed the Washington Capitals to Boston for the first time this season.
The Bruins were able to shake off four major mistakes in the win. A cardinal rule in hockey is that you never take a penalty less than a minute into a period. Boston did this at the beginning of each period and were only burned once.
That was in the first as Mike Green, the NHL's leading goal scorer amongst defenseman over the past two seasons (31 goals), scored on a slap shot from the point after Boston had returned to full strength only a second earlier.
The Bruins would respond halfway into the first period after Shawn Thornton made Alex Ovechkin pay for turning the puck over at his own blueline. He carried the puck towards the Capitals net and backhanded a shot over Jose Theodore to tie the game up at one.
Then Boston made another major mistake, giving up a goal in the final minute of the first period. With only 21 seconds remaining in the opening period, Michael Nylander put home a loose puck in front of the Bruins net on a delayed penalty, giving the Caps a 2-1 advantage heading into the first intermission.
While the Bruins made their mistakes, the Capitals made some mental errors tonight as well. Their first three penalties of the game were all in the offensive zone. Chris Clark was called for goaltender interference just 50 seconds after Green's opening goal, usually the type of penalty that burns a team, but Washington was able to kill it off.
The other penalties included a cross check from Donald Brashear and a hooking call on Michael Nylander that nullified a Capitals power play. On the ensuing Bruins man advantage, Alex Semin failed to clear the puck as he attempted to maneuver around Patrice Bergeron.
The Canadian center stole the puck and found Marc Savard on a cross ice pass that the all-star buried into the back of the net before jumping into the boards in an Alex Ovechkin-like celebration.
As for Ovechkin, he gave Caps fans everywhere a scare at the 14:25 mark of the second period when he was hooked by Zdeno Chara in the offensive zone and went crashing into the corner boards shoulder first. Ovechkin stayed down on the ice for several minutes before eventually making his way to the locker room visibly upset.
He threw his gloves and helmet down as he exited the bench and looked as though he could be seriously injured. But as he has said in the past, "Russian machine never break," as Ovie returned to the game at the beginning of the third period.
A scoreless third period was highlighted by Donald Brashear's 200th career NHL fight as he battled Bruins rookie Byron Bitz (give the decision to Brashear).
In the extra frame the Caps had a great chance to end the game when Nicklas Backstrom tried to one-time a rebound from an Ovechkin shot past Tim Thomas, but the all-star goaltender threw his right pad out and robbed the Swede with a huge kick save. The rebound from that shot led to a Bruins breakout that resulted in Backstrom having to hook down Chara in order to prevent a sure tap in goal by the 6'9" defenseman.
The Caps penalty killers did a good job of killing off the first minute of the Bruins power play, but with 3:05 left in overtime a Krejci cross deflected off the right leg of defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and into the back of the net sealing Washington's fate on this night.
It was a tough way to lose the game for goaltender Jose Theodore who was exceptional all night long for Washington. Two highlight reel saves that stood out were his stop on Stephen Yelle in the second period who was all alone in front, and his flashy glove save on David Krejci as the Caps attempted to kill off the Bruins power play in overtime.
It might finally be time to stop all this talk about Washington needing to find a goaltender. Theodore has settled in nicely as the team's number one netminder and should be counted on to lead the way as the Caps make their push to the playoffs.
To give you an idea of how close the season series has been between these two teams, after three games neither team has held a lead of more than one goal except for an empty net tally by the Caps at the end of their first match-up on December 10th. That goal gave Washington a 3-1 win. As even as they have been it would only be fitting to see these two teams battling it out in the Eastern Conference finals later this spring.
Down on the Farm
The South Carolina Stingrays lost their fourth consecutive game to the Gwinnett Gladiators tonight 3-2 in overtime before 3,424 fans at the North Charleston Coliseum. Maxime Lacroix, the Capitals fifth round pick in the 2006 draft, tallied twice in the loss giving him 21 goals and 33 points in 33 games this season in the ECHL.
Earlier in the day the 'Rays acquired goaltender Jonathan Boutin from the Victoria Salmon Kings in exchange for future considerations.