The Washington Capitals came into this game knowing they would be without their #1 center, the same man who won them game two with a double overtime goal. Down two games to one in the series to the defending champs, this was a game their captain said they needed to win. The Bruins has also found a way to produce offense in the last game, tripling their series output in the previous game, meaning the Caps' rookie third-string goalie might be a bit shaky coming into this game.
The Capitals responded, and they responded quickly, taking the lead just 82 seconds into the game. After the Caps cleared the puck to center, team captain Alexander Ovechkin gave maximum effort in trying to retrieve it in the neutral zone. He took a stiff check from the Bruins' defenseman and ended up flat on the ice, but not before creating enough space for proxy #1 center Brooks Laich to scoop up the puck and race into the Bruins zone with Marcus Johansson. Laich threaded a pass through Brian Rolston, which Johansson buried top-shelf past a helpless Tim Thomas.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images
Even though the Bruins out-shot the Caps 14-3 in the first period, their offense was still out of sync. Frustrated by the efforts of the Caps defense, the Bs repeatedly took shots and controlled play in the Caps end, but were unable to crack rookie goalie Braden Holtby on 44 of their 45 shots in the game. The only goal the Bruins got came at the hands of Cap-killer Rich Peverley 13:12 into the first period. As Alex Ovechkin entered the offensive zone, he lost the puck when he fell down, trapping three teammates up ice, including a pinching Dennis Wideman. The Bruins moved the puck up ice, Peverley received a pass from Greg Campbell and skated the puck up ice on a 2-on-1. Playing his first game since mid-February, John Erskine expertly cut off Peverley's passing lane to Daniel Paille, but no matter, Peverley buried the puck past Holtby himself to even the score.
This game had a completely different tone than the first three games of the series. Maybe the officials warned the teams before the game. Maybe it was the renewed commitment to discipline from the Capitals. Maybe it was the presence of veteran forward Mike Knuble and enforcer John Erskine on the Caps blueline. Maybe the suspension of Nicklas Backstrom made the players realize they could actually poke someone's eye out if they weren't careful. Whatever it was, the Capitals and Bruins limited the stuff between whistles and played hockey. The Bruins only took three penalties, but could have been tagged for two obvious high sticks that were not called. The Capitals only took one penalty, a hold midway through the third period, and they probably got away with one or two more. In short, it was a hockey game for a change, evenly officiated for most of it, even if they didn't call everything.
The Capitals' first two powerplays were less than expertly executed in the absence of Nick Backstrom, but they made no mistake on their third. The Capitals struck with Patrice Bergeron off for an offensive-zone hook late in the second period. Ovechkin moved the puck down from the point to Keith Aucoin, who cycled the puck in the left-wing corner with Alexander Semin. Semin rolled from the corner to the faceoff dot, looked off the goalie on a fake pass, then ripped a wrist shot over Thomas' shoulder for the lead and bringing the raucous crowd to their feet. Semin has scored the only two powerplay goals in the series, and he and Rich Peverley are the only multi-goal scorers in this series.
The Bruins worked hard throughout the final frame, again out-shooting the Caps by a wide margin, but they could not cash in. The Capitals kept matching lines, winning faceoffs, and kept the Bruins away from the danger areas. Even in the final few minutes they couldn't muster anything, not even after pulling Tim Thomas.
With a pending offensive zone faceoff, the Bruins called a timeout with 9.5 seconds left. Bruins coach Claude Julien was yelling at the officials to put more time on the clock, but they did not. Once the puck was dropped, the Bruins made it very interesting before the final horn, firing a shot that Braden Holtby had to make a flashy save on. If the final 9.5 seconds seemed like they were a lot longer, they were, and not just because we were holding our breath.
According to a statement made by NHL Vice President Mike Murphy,
"With 9.5 seconds remaining in the third period, there was a stoppage and resulting face-off in the Washington zone. During the stoppage, the game clock operator and Series Manager determined that 0.9 seconds should have been added to the time remaining in the third period and attempted to contact the on-ice officials to delay the puck drop to accommodate making the necessary clock adjustment to 10.4 seconds remaining.
"The off-ice officials were not able to attract the attention of the referees or linesmen despite sounding the horn, which was not audible due to crowd noise, and the puck was dropped.
"The NHL Situation Room in Toronto immediately was aware that the clock had not started for 5.3 seconds after the face-off and, therefore, would have disallowed a goal scored with 5.3 seconds or less showing on the clock."
The Capitals had won, and they have guaranteed a home-ice Game 6 on Sunday. One team will be facing elimination, and if Holtby is as good on Saturday as he was tonight, it could well be the Bruins.