Hard on the heels of their thrilling come-from-behind overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, the Caps played host to the team they defeated in the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup tournament – the Boston Bruins – on Friday.
The Caps did catch a break in that the Bruins were playing the second half of a road back-to-back set, their first back-to-back of the season, having played in Toronto on Thursday night. The Caps got another break when Bruins head coach Claude Julien decided not to start goalie Tuukka Rask on consecutive nights, giving the nod to rookie Anton Khudobin in his first start of the young season.
Khudobin might not have had NHL experience, but it was not as if he was not experienced. The 26-year old entered this season with more than 170 games of AHL regular season and playoff experience, almost 70 games in the ECHL, and more than 20 games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Russia. And even his sparse NHL experience was successful. He brought a career record into this game of 5-1-0, 1.32, .961, and one shutout earned over small parts of three seasons with the Minnesota Wild and the Bruins.
Khudobin and the Bruins, not to mention the Caps, continued just where they left off in last spring’s opening round playoff series. Neither team was able to find the back of the net, and the game was played with a zone-to-zone ferocity that belied the fact that this game was being played in November. The first 20 minutes passed without a good scoring chance for either side. And while Khudobin was able to keep the net clean for the Bruins, Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth did the same for the Caps. The Caps led in shots in the first period, 5-4.
The start of the second period was much like the first, neither team able to gain much of a foothold in the other’s defensive zone. That changed when Nicklas Backstrom took a slashing penalty just before the six-minute mark of the period. The Caps almost killed the penalty off, but with just 14 seconds left in the penalty kill an attempted clear by John Carlson hit a post between two of the glass partitions at the side wall and ricocheted to Tyler Seguin in the right wing circle. Seguin backhanded a pass to Patrice Bergeron at the edge of the left wing circle, and Bergeron wristed the puck past Neuvirth to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 7:44.
The lead lasted only nine seconds. After Backstrom won the ensuing faceoff, Carlson sent the puck off the boards and into the Boston end. Dennis Seidenberg was retreating on the play and tried to sweep the puck onto his stick. He missed, and his momentum took him away from the puck. Backstrom pounced on the unforced error and snapped the puck through Khudobin’s five hole to knot the game at a goal apiece.
The Caps would get their own power play opportunity when Milan Lucic was sent off for charging, but the Caps could not solve Khudobin with the man advantage. Except for some mutual disrespect between Matt Hendricks and Brad Marchand that resulted in coincidental roughing minors late in the period, there was no further excitement before the teams went to their locker rooms at the second intermission tied at a goal apiece.
Rich Peverley broke the tie early in the third period when he was able to get multiple whacks at a loose puck in front of Neuvirth. Given the way the game was progressing, that goal might have been enough. But with just under nine minutes left in the third period, Joey Crabb returned the favor by getting several pokes at a loose puck in Khudobin’s crease. His last poke managed to slide the puck under the goalie for his first goal of the season just as he was getting sent to the ice by Bruin defenseman Andrew Ference.
That was how the 60-minute portion of the game ended, the teams tied at 2-2. Both goalies kept their nets clear of pucks in the five-minute overtime, and the contest went to the trick shot competition. Round one featured Tyler Seguin for the Bruins and Mike Ribeiro for the Caps, neither being able to score on Neuvirth or Khudobin. The second round of Patrice Bergeron and Nicklas Backstrom had the same result.
David Krejci had a chance to put the Bruins up in the final round, but Neuvirth did not bite on an attempt by Kreici to open up the five hole with a deke. Neuvirth turned away the shot, giving the Caps a chance to clinch with Matt Hendricks skating to center ice. Hendricks started in, and as he reached the top of the circles opened up his stick blade to show a forehand shot. Khudobin bit on the fake, dropping to the ice to defend the shot that didn’t come. He was prone at the top of his crease – paralyzed, as it were – as Hendricks curled to his left and wristed the puck into the open net, giving the Caps a 3-2 win.
Notes: Mike Green missed the contest with a “lower body injury;” he is still listed as day-to-day… Alex Ovechkin was held without a shot on goal for the first time this season… the goal in the Gimmick round was Hendricks’ 10th career goal; he is 10-for-14 for his career and 9-for-12 in two-plus seasons with the Caps.
Capitals 3 – Bruins 2 (OT/SO)