BOSTON – With the Bruins, it always starts with defense. Chris Kelly’s overtime winner in Thursday’s 1-0 Game 1 win over the Capitals was no different. Greg Zanon slowed up Marcus Johansson on a 1-on-1, Tim Thomas made the pad save on the shot, and then Joe Corvo started the breakout with a quick chip up the boards.
From there, Brian Rolston moved it quickly to Benoit Pouliot, who then went cross-ice to a streaking Kelly. Kelly simply teed up a slapper from the wing and saw his shot just nick Dennis Wideman’s stick before sailing into the top right corner. It was perhaps fitting that Kelly got the winner, given that he has been one of the Bruins’ best defensive forwards since he arrived at last season’s trade deadline.
“He was, without a doubt, our unsung hero this year,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Kelly. “We talk about [Patrice Bergeron] being a good two-way player. I think Kelly’s the same way. He’s producing this year more than ever, and he’s so reliable defensively. We talked about that line being able to hopefully get some secondary scoring like our third line did last year. So far, they’re off to a good start.”
The winning play demonstrated exactly what the Bruins do perhaps better than anyone in the NHL — turn defense into offense. They had played great defense all night, but couldn’t find a way to convert it into a goal until overtime.
Through the first two periods, the Bruins held Washington to a meager seven shots on goal. They gave the Capitals virtually no room to work with, as they consistently broke up rushes before they even got started and turned pucks up ice long before the Capitals could establish any sort of offensive cycle.
Some of the Bruins’ best defensive work came on Washington’s most dangerous weapon — Alex Ovechkin. Led by the shutdown pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, the Bruins held Ovechkin to just one shot on goal and finished their checks on him whenever they got the opportunity.
“We played a very good defensive game today,” Thomas said. “I can’t remember an odd-man rush off hand, certainly no breakaways. Most of the good opportunities we gave up came from their power play, which is a very good power play. I realized that we played a very physical game. … That’s good. That showed me that they’re ready to play playoff-style hockey.”
At the other end of the ice, the Bruins’ lack of goals wasn’t due to a lack of chances. They possessed the puck in the offensive zone for long stretches at a time and put 26 shots on goal through the first two periods. But rookie goalie Braden Holtby was up to the challenge.
“In the second period, we took a lot of penalties and he had to be sharp,” Capitals coach Dale Hunter said of his goalie. “They fired a bunch of one-timers, and he was real sharp. He kept us in there.”
The tables did turn a bit in the third, as the Capitals outshot the Bruins 9-3 in the frame. Like Holtby at the other end, though, Thomas held his ground and made some big saves as the game went on, setting his team up for a chance to win in overtime.
“When a goaltender doesn’t get a ton of shots, it becomes a challenge for him to mentally stay in the game, and even physically,” Julien said. “I thought Tim did a great job of staying focused and staying sharp. When he had to make those big saves, he made them, and that was nice to see. That’s Tim. With the experience he’s had over the course of his career now, those things are starting to really show.”
Low-scoring game with sound defense and stellar goaltending? That was the recipe for Boston last year during its championship run. If Thursday’s Game 1 was any indication, the Bruins still have the ingredients.