Thursday, April 09, 2015

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 81: Capitals 3 - Bruins 0

Someday, the Boston Bruins will score a goal against Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.  For now, however, Holtby is the stuff of Bruin nightmares, causing them to bolt upright in cold sweats clutching their sticks in horror and wailing in despair.  For try at they might, and they did get 27 shots on goal, they could not solve Holtby.

For the third time in three tries this season, Braden Holtby shut out the Bruins, last night by a 3-0 margin at Verizon Center, putting the Bruins in greater danger of missing the post season as they cling to a tie-breaker advantage over the Ottawa Senators for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Caps staked Holtby to an early lead, just 4:49 into the game, when Nicklas Backstrom, skating down the left wing wall, threaded a difficult pass through the high slot and onto the tape of John Carlson’s stick at the top of the right wing circle.  Carlson glided in and fired a snap shot that beat goalie Tuukka Rask over his glove, and it was 1-0.

Less than three minutes later, it was 2-0.  Troy Brouwer did some fine work on the right wing wall to free the puck back to Backstrom, who wasted no time sending the puck back to Matt Niskanen at the right point.  Niskanen fired a shot from long range that was redirected past Rask by the stick of teammate Zach Trotman at 7:06.

That would do it for the scoring until late in the second period when Marcus Johansson hit the 20-goal mark for the season.  It took a pair of clever passes to set up the score, the first coming from Brouwer who, hounded by Bruin Brett Connolly, spun from the wall at the Caps’ blue line and backhanded a short pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov exiting the zone.  Kuznetsov skated down the right wing into the Bruins’ zone and was on a path to take him around the back of the Boston net.  However, as he got to the goal line he spied Johansson trailing, and instead of continuing with the puck around the Boston net, he left it for Johansson as Rask was sliding across in anticipation of Kuznetsov coming out the other side.  Johansson had an open half of the net at which to shoot, and he buried the shot to make it 3-0 with 2:13 left in the second period.

With a three-goal lead heading into the third period, it was left to Holtby to slam the door shut on any Bruin hopes.  He faced only five shots, stopped them all, and had his third shutout of the Bruins this season and his ninth overall as the Caps won, 3-0.

Other stuff…

-- Braden Holtby’s shutout streak against the Bruins extended to 186:43 with this shutout, dating back to the third period of a 4-2 loss to Boston last March 29th.  The shutout tied him with Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury for the league lead (9).

-- Niskanen’s goal broke what was for him a bit of an ugly streak.  He had not scored a goal in 37 consecutive regular season games in April, dating back to April 3, 2008, when he scored a goal for the Dallas Stars in a 4-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes.

-- Troy Brouwer’s two assists gave him 20, the first time in his career he hit the 20-assist mark.  It was also his third two-assist game of the season.

-- Nicklas Backstrom might be in a long goal-scoring drought, but he continues to accumulate the assists.  He had two more last night, giving him 59 for the season, tied for the league lead with Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek.

-- Marcus Johansson hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career with his second period score.  With two points on the night, he set a career high in points (47) in his ninth multi-point game of the season.

-- Michael Latta was the only Capital to win his night in the circle on a night where the Caps were abused on faceoffs (24-for-63 in all, 38.1 percent).  Latta was 7-for-12.

-- Although they are the “Big Bad Bruins,” it was the Caps credited with the large majority of hits, finishing with a 35-24 margin.  Latta led the team with six.

-- Stanislav Galiev dressed for his first NHL game, finishing with one shot on goal, two shot attempts, a hit, and a takeaway in 9:56 of ice time.

-- It was a big night for Holtby in other ways.  He became the first goalie to shutout the same opponent in three consecutive games in a regular season since the Coyotes’ Mike Smith did it to the San Jose Sharks in 2010-2011, and he tied the Capitals franchise record for wins in a season with 41 (Olaf Kolzig in 1999-2000).  He is tied for second (with Nashville’s Pekka Rinne) in wins, behind only Montreal’s Carey Price (42).  And, until Holtby’s three shutouts of the Bruins this season, the Caps had recorded a total of five shutouts against Boston in 145 games of this series before this season.

-- The Caps swept the season series against Boston for the first time since the 1982-1983 season.

In the end…

Nice win, good win, the kind of win you really like to see at this time of year.  Cold, brutally efficient, throwing the opponent’s style of game right back in their face.  The Caps are now 9-2-1 in their last dozen games.  They did it with solid efforts up and down the roster and an excellent performance in goal.  Just they formula you are looking for at this time of year.