BOSTON — For two periods of Thursday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Washington, the Bruins played outstanding defense. They allowed a meager two shots in the opening frame and just nine through the first 40 minutes. But with the game still scoreless in the third, both teams opened up and the Bruins wound up making a pair of costly mistakes that cost them the win.
The Capitals got on the board first when Brad Marchand lost his man on the backcheck, allowing Dennis Wideman to walk into the high slot and beat Tim Thomas with a wrister.
Washington struck again two minutes later when an errant drop pass from Milan Lucic to Andrew Ference led to a 2-on-1 the other way that ended with Marcus Johansson one-timing an Alex Ovechkin feed past Thomas.
Although those two mistakes cost the Bruins the second point, Thursday night will go down as another strong defensive effort. After all, they did still hold Washington to 23 shots and two goals, marking the seventh straight game they’ve held their opponent to two goals or fewer.
That seven-game stretch would be impressive at any time, but it’s even more impressive when you consider that the Bruins had allowed three or more goals in eight of the nine games preceding this current run.
“It’s more of our identity, right?” coach Claude Julien said after the game. “I think it’s paying attention to details without the puck, and we’ve started taking pride in that. We’ve cut down on the shots against and been the better team because of that.”
Ference, who scored the tying goal with 1:16 left in regulation, said better efforts in the neutral and offensive zones have helped take pressure off the defense, too.
“I think a lot fewer turnovers, and the puck possession I think has been a bit better,” Ference said. “So obviously if you hold onto the puck in their end, you’re not going to give up as many chances. Those are the two most obvious things.”
The improved defense was even more important Thursday night, as the Bruins were forced to play most of the game down two of their regular blue-liners. Dennis Seidenberg missed the game with an infected cut, while Adam McQuaid left 14 minutes into the first and didn’t return after taking a big hit from Jason Chimera behind his own net. The hit earned Chimera a five-minute major and game misconduct for charging. Julien said after the game that McQuaid had a cut above his eye and “wasn’t feeling quite right.”
“That’s happened a couple of times, where we’ve kind of had to run our back end short, and guys respond well,” Julien said. “I think we did a pretty good job. Again, when you look at the number of shots we gave up tonight, we’re still defensively playing decent hockey, and I think that kind of helped us stay in the game for a while. Again, our D deserve a lot of credit — [Zdeno Chara] getting a lot of ice time again tonight and handling that well also.”
Another reason the improved defense has been crucial is that it has taken some pressure off Thomas and allowed him to get back into a groove. In a season in which the 37-year-old netminder was supposed to get some extra rest, Thomas has been forced to appear in 17 of the Bruins’ last 18 games, thanks to an injury to Tuukka Rask and inconsistent play from Marty Turco.
While much has been made of Thomas’ workload in print, on radio and on TV, Thomas himself said he isn’t worried.
“It’s fine,” Thomas said. “I’m not even putting a thought into it. I’m just playing and trying to get ready for the playoffs and put points together, which we’ve been doing pretty good lately.”