Bruins Dominate Capitals Behind Lucic, Horton
Whether it was the extremely poor performance Thursday against Florida, the blown lead the last time these two teams met or the fact that the seventh-seeded Capitals knocked the Bruins out of the first round of the playoffs with an overtime win in Game 7 at The Garden last season, something got the attention of the entire Bruins team as they came out firing in a Saturday matinee on Causeway St. to kick off St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Led by the top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton, the B’s returned to their style of play, dominating the lowly Capitals with gritty toughness and timely goals. As Jack Edwards would say, there was a whole lot of good nasty in this one and the Bruins used it to their advantage, coming out with the 4-1 win.
Three minutes after their first goal, the first line struck again, this time with the game-winner from Krejci. Lucic’s physicality on the forecheck won him the puck behind the goal line and a quick centering pass found Krejci for the one-timed goal. Lucic won the puck easily and Krejci flicked a one-timer past Michal Neuvrith on the glove side to make it 2-0 with less than three minutes remaining in the first. Assists went to Lucic and Horton on Krejci’s seventh of the year.
“We were able to establish a good forecheck,” said Lucic of the team’s effort on the day. “Playing with that spirited emotion is a big part of our line’s game.”
That was all Anton Khudobin would need as he made 32 saves on the day on the way to his fifth win of the year.
Horton scored his eighth of the year at 14:12 of the period to put the B’s on top, 1-0. He dumped the puck into the opposite corner and Lucic just took it away from Brower behind the net, surveyed his options and found the wide-open Horton in the slot for the one-timer. Horton now has seven points in six career games against the Caps since joining the Bruins.
“They showed a lot more emotion today in their game. They were a big difference in our team today,” said Bruins coach, Claude Julien, on the play of his first line. When asked about the 60-minute effort of his team, he responded, “it was much better tonight. Hopefully we bring that to Pittsburgh tomorrow.”
For the 15th time in 25 games, the Bruins scored first thanks to the simple play in the offensive zone by the first line. Zdeno Chara got the second assist, but it was a big save by Khudobin on Alex Ovechkin 200 feet away that allowed for the goal-scoring play to begin.
The first line finished a combined plus-6 in the period and was a combined plus-5 on the afternoon with nine total points.
An unfortunate start to the second saw an own-goal as a Krejci pass across the crease deflected in off the skate of Johnny Boychuk to make it 2-1 less than two minutes in, but the Bruins didn’t panic and came back to get the all-important next goal as things really started to heat up. Marcus Johnansson got credit for the goal – his second of the year.
Khudobin made a few big saves in the first, the biggest coming just seconds into an Adam McQuaid roughing penalty, when he extended his left arm to rob Nicklas Backstrom, who couldn’t elevate the puck on the doorstep.
As the physical play continued, Andrew Ference extended the Bruins’ lead to 3-1 with a speeding wrister past Neuvrith. Krejci brought the puck in and delayed on the right wing before making a quick pass to Horton. Horton touched a quick back-handed pass to Ference, the trailer, and he wristed it in for his first of the year.
The assist gave Horton his first three-point game since Jan. 5, 2012 in the 9-0 win over the Flames and he completed the Gordie Howe hat trick later in the period. He didn’t really have a choice as Matt Hendricks, who had been begging the Bruins to beat him all day, came at No. 18 with his gloves off and his fists flying. Brad Marchand had just squared off with Mike Ribeiro in the Bruins’ zone nine seconds earlier. For both Bruins, it was their first fight of the season. Not that I’m biased, but I think the B’s went 2-0 in the ring for the second, including Marchand beating up on Ribeiro, who has four inches on him. Boston led shots, 26-23, after two.
“I’ve had that shot a couple times and eventually I guess it’s going to go in,” said Ference. “Our forwards have done a good job driving the net. I think there’s a lot more concentration and consistency in our game,” he added. His goal leaves Dennis Seidenberg as the only Bruins’ regular not to have scored a goal this season.
Rich Peverley would add his fourth of the season eight seconds into the Bruins’ only power play of the night 2:41 into the third with the first line on the ice again and with Marchand and Hendricks jawing at each other from their respective penalty boxes. The goal was timely as it put any hope of a comeback out of mind for the Caps. Krejci found the open Peverley in the slot and he deflected it on net, but Neuvrith stopped both that and the rebound bid from Lucic before Peverley poked it in for the goal. Lucic picked up his career-high third assist of the day and Krejci picked up his 300th NHL point with the second assist.
Peverley became the fourth different Bruin with a goal on the afternoon as he made good on Shawn Thornton‘s pregame prediction that he would score. He took Horton’s spot on the first unit with No. 18 still serving his fighting major at the time. It was his first power-play goal of the year.
As expected, the fisticuffs continued in the third with McQuaid getting his wish and taking on Hendricks halfway through the period. Thornton originally wanted to go with Hendricks as the two lined up next to each other on the draw, but Hendricks wasn’t having it even after Thornton shadowed him across the ice where McQuaid helped his teammate corner the Capital, who then had to choose who he would fight his way out through. He chose McQuaid.
Thornton got the extra two for instigating, but the Bruins killed off that penalty as well as the other two they were guilty of on the day against the second-ranked power-play in the league. They have now killed 25 consecutive penalties and remain the No. 1 penalty-killing unit in the league.
That was it for the goal scoring and fighting as Khudobin added a few more saves to his total of 32 and the Bruins walked off the ice with a decisive victory in what was a full 60-minute effort. The only puck that got by the Bruins’ goalie, who improved to 3-0 at home this season, was an errant pass from one of his own teammates. Khudobin improved to 5-2-0 this season in the second start for him in the team’s last three games. Neuvrith, on the other hand, fell to 2-5-1 for the cellar-dwelling Caps.
It was the play of the first line, though, that propelled the Bruins to their second straight victory. The physicality from Lucic and Horton really set the tone early and, of course, their offensive output, combining for nine of the team’s 12 points on the day, was huge.
“Everyone on that line was going,” said Thornton after the game. “You could see it right from the drop of the puck.”
“I think we played a prety strong game – full 60 minutes,” said Krejci. “Once we got [chances] we made sure it ended up in their net. One game doesn’t make the season; we know we have to be even better tomorrow. Today was there; just a good effort by all four lines.”
After blowing a 3-0 lead against the Capitals in their first meeting, the Bruins improved to 19-4-3 on the year and 8-0-1 against the Southeast Division. Washington fell to 11-15-1 in 14th place in the Eastern Conference.
Jay Pandolfo was the only Bruin without a shot on net in the game as the Bruins registered 42 as a team. The B’s improved to 13-1-1 on the year when scoring first and 4-0-1 when wearing their all black alternate uniforms. Finally, the B’s improved to 5-0 in matinees this season.
The Bruins travel to Pittsburgh Sunday for the second time in less than a week for a 12:30 matinee against the Penguins, who have won eight straight.
Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.