The Washington Capitals lost game one of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series on Thursday night, falling in overtime to the Boston Bruins inside TD Garden. The Capitals, and Braden Holtby, who made 29 saves, were able to hang in win the Stanley Cup Champions for 61 minutes and 18 seconds, sustaining many penalty kills and waves of domination, but eventually caved to their hosts when Chris Kelly scored from the half wall on a rush. The Capitals will attempt to get one game back on Saturday afternoon.
The Bruins came out in dominating fashion, controlling the tempo of play early and getting several good chances on Braden Holtby, who was making his first career NHL playoff start. Boston continued their strong forecheck and puck possession through the first half of the period, and were out-shooting the Capitals by a comfortable margin, but could not break through for the first goal of the game.
After the midway mark of the period, however, the Capitals began to pick up a little bit of momentum that was aided with seven minutes left in the period when David Krejci boarded Dennis Wideman, burying him in the corner. But predictably, the Washington power play, which had been poor over the last three weeks, was unable to cash in. As the period wound down, the pace of play really began to pick up, with great end-to-end action and good chances for both teams, but any momentum the Capitals had was snuffed out when Jay Beagle took a four minute high sticking penalty. Despite that, the Caps were able to end the first period tied at zero.
On the power play for the first two and a half minutes of the second period the Bruins pressured more and more, but Holtby stood on his head to kill the rest of the minor off. Unfortunately, Troy Brouwer took a delay of game penalty immediately after the first penalty had expired, but again the Washington penalty kill was strong and methodical in their elimination of the man advantage. After the penalties were over, however, the game really opened up again, with furious action at both ends of the ice and some big hits and scoring chances.
The Capitals only got one shot in the first 11 minutes of the period, and the Boston domination picked up again after a scrum behind the net led to some four on four hockey, despite the fact that Milan Lucic was the third man in to the scrum. The Bruins got a four-on-three soon after when Braden Holtby blockered a forward in front of his net. But once again, the young goaltender held his ground to keep the game scoreless. Despite more Boston pressure at the end of the period, though, the game was still scoreless after 40 minutes despite the shots being 26-7 in favor of the Bruins.
As open as the end of the second period was, the beginning of the third period was much tighter and less free-flowing. But the Capitals got a break three minutes in to the frame when Zdeno Chara was called for a penalty, giving the Caps a golden opportunity. Washington got several great chances on their man advantage, including a wide open look on an Ovechkin weak side shot, but Tim Thomas somehow made it over and stopped the puck with his pad. Thomas continued the play that won him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the period progressed, and DC could not get through him.
At the midway mark of the period, however, the Bruins began to pick up their play again, forcing Holtby out of his crease on multiple occasions but simply being unable to convert. The hosts got a particularly great chance five minutes left in the period when Chris Kelly drove to the net and beat Jeff Schultz cleanly, but Holtby was there with his stick. The third period closed with the game still scoreless, resulting in sudden death overtime.
Just 1:18 in to overtime, the Bruins took home the victory with a goal from Chris Kelly. Marcus Johansson led a rush up ice right off the bat, but his shot was sent wide. The Bruins then executed a perfect breakout play that concluded with Kelly roaring down the wing and bombing a slap shot through Holtby’s seven-hole to take game one.
What a game from Braden Holtby. The young goaltender was sensational throughout, making key save after key save to give his team a chance to win. The overtime goal should be stopped most times, but it’s hard to blame him for the loss when he held the Capitals in the game for so long. He’s here, and he’s going to be the goalie in this series. He played too well on Thursday to not get the call in game two.
This was a game that was a perfect illustration of how this series is going to go. The Capitals, more likely than not, will be worn down physically by the Bruins, especially if they take penalties. They are going to need Holtby to keep them in most games, and capitalize on the chances that they get. Because you can’t expect Tim Thomas to make the same mistake twice. Scoring is going to be very hard to come by, period.
John Carlson and Karl Alzner were both great tonight. Paired together for the third consecutive game, the young defensive tandem was physical, smart, and did their best to control the Bruins’ dynamic top line. It’s very encouraging to see them back together and Carlson, in particular, bouncing back.
Nevertheless, tomorrow is a new day. And if Thursday’s game was any indication, it’s going to be one hell of a series.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who is credentialed to cover the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.