The Washington Capitals looked for all the world like a lost cause in their battle against the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. But a disallowed Bruins goal, some spectacular goaltending from Philipp Grubauer, and an overtime howitzer from Matt Niskanen, and the Caps escaped Boston with a 2-1 win to kick off their four-game road trip.
The Caps once more got off to a slow start, this time allowing the game’s first goal in the eighth minute of the first period. It was a case of an inability to get the puck out of their own end and then chasing Bruins. Kevan Miller started the scoring play when he flagged down an attempted clear just inside the Caps’ blue line. He turned and sent the puck down to Lee Stempniak, who turned and tried to get the puck on net. Nicklas Backstrom got a skate on the puck for the Caps, but it turned him around, and he could not locate the biscuit to get the Caps out of danger. It found its way to the stick of Brad Marchand at the bottom of the left wing circle, where he spun and found Patrice Bergeron in the low slot. Bergeron had only to snap the puck into the far side of the net past Grubauer’s left pad, and it was 2-1, Boston, 7:11 into the game.
That would do it for the scoring in the first period, and it looked as if Boston added to their lead with barely three minutes gone in the second period when Torey Krug worked the puck past Grubauer. But the Caps challenged the play for being offside, and they won the challenge, depriving the Bruins of that second goal.
Whatever momentum the Caps could derive from the favorable call on the review was gone a little over two minutes later when Alex Ovechkin was sent off on a five-minute major penalty for boarding Miller. It got worse for the Caps three minutes later when Tom Wilson was sent to the box for an interference penalty, giving the Bruins 1:49 of a 5-on-3 advantage.
The game turned in that 1:49 when Grubauer turned away seven shots on the 5-on-3. It allowed the Caps to get a little more settled in their game, and they finally broke through 13 minutes into the period. Karl Alzner started and finished the play. He started it by hunting down the puck in the corner to the right of goalie Tuukka Rask. Outdueling Dennis Seidenberg for control, he worked it out to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing faceoff circle. Ovechkin move the puck along to Nicklas Backstrom at the edge of the right wing circle, and with Alzner darting down the goal line to the net, Backstrom slid the puck through Zdeno Chara’s legs to Alzner to redirect it into the net past Rask.
Neither team could find paydirt over the rest of regulation time, making it a victory of sorts for the Caps, who put themselves behind the eight ball all too often in the 60-minute portion of the contest. Mid-way through the extra frame, Andre Burakovsky skated the puck around the top of the offensive zone, drawing Ryan Spooner with him. It opened up space for Burakovsky to lay the puck off for Matt Niskanen, who had time to wind up for a blast that beat Rask on his glove side to give the Caps a 2-1 win that seemed so improbable for most of the evening.
-- The win put the Capitals at the 100-point mark at Game 65. It is the earliest they ever reached the 100-point mark, the 2009-2010 team having done it in Game 69.
-- The 48th win of the season ties the Caps with the 1983-1984 and the 2010-2011 teams for fourth-place in all time wins in a season.
-- Matt Niskanen scored the game-winning goal on his only shot on goal of the game. It was his second game-winning goals in three games, the other (against the Toronto Maple Leafs) also coming on what was his only shot on goal of the game.
-- This was the tenth straight one-goal decision for the Caps, over which their record is 7-3-0.
-- The win allowed the Caps to avoid consecutive losses in regulation. They still do not have consecutive losses in regulation time this season. They have now gone 78 games since the last time they did so, on March 11th and 13th last season against the New York Rangers and the Dallas Stars.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov tied a season high with seven shots on goal (versus Edmonton on October 23rd). It was one off his career high of eight shots on goal, set last March 16th against the Buffalo Sabres.
-- Boston had 27 shot attempts in the second period, 20 of them on goal. Of those totals, 11 shot attempts came on power plays, eight of them shots on goal.
-- Once upon a time, it seemed Tom Wilson was in a fight a week. Now, it’s one a month. He had his “March” fight against Adam McQuaid. He had one in February and one in January. It was only his fifth fight of the season.
-- This was the fourth time in his last seven games that Philipp Grubauer allowed just one goal in a game he played from start to finish. He is now fourth in save percentage among goalies appearing in at least 750 minutes (.930 to Robin Lehner’s .931).
-- It was another case of the Caps lagging in possession numbers early an coming on late. Boston led in 5-on-5 shots attempts in the first period, 18-16, and held a 16-8 edge in the second period. The Caps had the edge in the third period, 14-8 (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
In the end…
This was one of those games the Caps looked destined to lose, and a lot of it was their own doing in the first two periods. But Philipp Grubauer was the difference, holding the Bruins off the scoreboard when the game could have slipped away in the second period. It might have been enough, under the circumstances, to call it a moral victory just getting to extra time, but Matt Niskanen once more showed that he is capable of raining pain on goaltenders with his cannon of a shot from outside. It made for a good start to the four-game road trip and a happy end to a long week.