The Washington Capitals needed to prove their playoff worthiness Saturday afternoon when they met the white-hot Boston Bruins in front of a home crowd hungry for the postseason. Despite the obvious motivation, the Caps did not show up for their fans for roughly the first thirty minutes of the game, a poor start they never came back from.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Bruins are riding high with points in their last 15 games. Veteran forward Jarome Iginla scored his 29th and 30th of the season on Washington goalie Braden Holtby, who remained in the game despite surrendering two goals in under a minute in the second period.
Coach Adam Oates defended his starter, claiming the net minder kept them in the game early on with solid play in the first period.
Execution woes plagued Washington early on, despite their recent trend of superior play.
Captain Alex Ovechkin said it was a problem of nobody making plays.
Forward Eric Fehr pointed to poor starts.
Regardless of the source, the Caps cannot afford anymore 4-2 lashings at such a critical time in their season.
The Bruins lea heavily in shots throughout the first period and the Caps relied on Holtby to preserve the stalemate, most notably when he denied Chris Kelly on the doorstep. Despite some quality chances on the Caps power play from a Patrice Bergeron tripping call, they failed to create any consistent offensive pressure.
Iginla was the first to pierce through Holtby’s armor early in the second when Eric Fehr failed to cleanly bring the puck into the Bruins’ offensive zone. The puck was turned over to David Krejci who sent it along the boards where it found Carl Soderburgh. Soderburgh set up Iginla, who was alone in the slot, ready to make the game 1-0.
Boston added to their lead with a power play goal from Soderburgh, who got a stick on a Bergeron shot to put it between the pads of Holtby. The Caps failed to box out in front of the net and paid the price, now in a two-goal hole.
A group of bold Bruins fans started a “Let’s Go Bruins” chant in the Verizon Center after the goal, their biting yells echoing off of the hallow Washington fans, who could do nothing but sit in silence.
Things went from bad to worse for the Caps as Iginla scored his second of the afternoon less than a minute later with a lot of traffic and commotion in front of the flailing Holtby.
Just as he lets one in, Holtby stoned Reilly Smith on a beautiful save point-blank on the rookie, a perfect example of Washington’s Achilles heel: inconsistency.
While the Caps still trailed in shots and goals, they finally showed up midway through the second period. It can be argued that the tough play from Washington’s celebrated line of “grinders,” Fehr, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward, sparked the resuscitation.
Now passes were precise, turnovers were less frequent, and pucks were getting to the net. Ironically, the Caps sole tally came not from one of their sticks, but off of a save attempt from Johnny Boychuck. Regardless, Jason Chimera received credit for the goal and the Caps went into the second intermission with the momentum firmly on their side.
“They ended up getting a goal in the second period, which obviously gave us life,” Oates said. “But that last five minutes of the second period, we had like three grade-A chances. It was like the recipe that you’re supposed to do all of a sudden showed up and the rest of the game was solid.”
Washington successfully killed off a Chimera penalty early on and received a power play of their own when Andrej Meszaros received a holding penalty.
The Caps had good puck movement on the man-advantage and had the Bruins tired in their own zone. For whatever reason, none of the chances were converted into goals and the top-ranked power play unit in the league left fruitlessly.
With a sizeable but not insurmountable task in front of them, Ovechkin hit an unsuspecting Loui Eriksson and received a questionable charging penalty. The Bruins scored on the subsequent power play, all but sealing the fate of the Caps.
“Those two minutes killed our chances,” said Ovechkin postgame.
“He wasn’t ready. I make a hit. Was it a penalty, two minutes? I think it changed the game right away, they scored a goal. I think it was a bad call,” he said. Ovechkin finished a minus-1, with no goals on five shots.
Oates described the call as “terrible”, but also said he did not think it changed the complexion of the game, stating he wanted the Caps to “work through it.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the final minutes of the third. He now has seven points (2 g, 5 a) in nine career NHL games. Unfortunately, it was too little too late, as the Caps fell to the Bruins to a final score of 4-2.
After the depressing loss, the Caps are looking for the silver lining.
“I thought that most of the third period we took the play to one of the best teams in the league. That’s a positive for us,” said Fehr.
“Definitely don’t want to take that long, but we know they are a good team and in our own rink we should be able to use momentum and create chances.”
With eight games left, if the Caps cannot find answers, they’ll find themselves as spectators in May for the first time in six seasons.