The Boston Bruins, defending Stanley Cup Champions, came into Verizon Center on Super Bowl Sunday and avenged their loss to the Washington Capitals of 10 days ago. As good teams do, they took advantage of a couple of defensive miscues by the Caps and emerged with a 4-1 win.
But the bigger story to the Caps was losing resident handyman Brooks Laich, who left the game with a left knee injury after colliding with Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg with eight minutes remaining in the second period. Laich, one of the toughest players in the league, needed help getting off the ice and down the runway to be examined by the Caps’ training staff. He came back out and tried to put weight on the leg during a timeout but was not able to skate.
Coach Dale Hunter said after the game that Laich was “day-to-day” and would require further evaluation. “We’re gonna wait and see,” Hunter said. Laich was seen exiting Verizon Center on crutches with a brace on his knee, but he was also observed driving himself home upon exit from the arena.
He joked with reporters that he suffered an elbow injury on his way out of the building, but it’s really no joking matter. If Laich were to miss any extended time – as thin as the Capitals are at center – their season could really be in jeopardy. Nicklas Backstrom has missed the last 14 games with concussion symptoms and the timetable for his return is still nebulous.
Laich’s importance to this team is obvious. He is the hard-working soul of the team. He pivots the team’s top defensive line. He is on the first penalty-kill unit, and often plays on the power play, one of the few Caps players who is willing to do the dirty work in the crease. And in Backstrom’s absence, he has also taken the lion’s share of face-off opportunities.
In addition to Laich, the Caps also saw young defenseman Dmitry Orlov take a puck to the face for the second day in a row. Hunter confirmed to the media that Orlov indeed broke the nose in Saturday’s win over Montreal after Sunday’s loss, but said he thought Orlov was “fine”, but that his eyes were too watering to continue play after the second hit to his nose. Hunter does not expect Orlov to miss any time.
As for the game, the Caps had their opportunities in this one after starting off very sluggish. They outshot Boston 36-29, making it the first time since mid-December the Caps broke the 30-shot plateau. But time and again, All-Star goalie Tim Thomas was able to turn back the Caps attack. Thomas was able to stop 35 of the Caps’ 36 shots, and the only puck that went behind him was intended as a pass from Marcus Johansson that deflected off a Bruins defenseman.
“We had a lot of chances, but [Tim] Thomas came up big,” Hunter said after the game. “A goalie like that can make a difference, and tonight, you know, especially in the first period they got a couple on us, but we had a breakaway and some great chances around him. But, again, he’s a good goalie and he got the better of us tonight.”
On the other end, Boston took advantage of two defensive breakdowns for their first two goals. On the first, Rich Peverley cut across the Caps offensive zone carrying the puck and Jeff Schultz followed him. Milan Lucic criss-crossed behind Peverley, slipped behind Dennis Wideman, and converted Peverley’s pass for his 19th goal of the season. Wideman took full responsibility on the play.
“No, no miscommunication,” Wideman said. “I just lost Luch, I let him get in behind me and he made us pay.”
Boston’s second goal came after winger Patrice Bergreon won a battle for the puck behind the Caps goal against three defenders (Laich, John Carlson and Karl Alzner), allowing Brad Marchand ample room to flick the puck over Tomas Vokoun’s shoulder (26-for-29 saves) for the goal.
Alzner tried to explain. “Brooksy and Carly both were below the goal line and it looked like he… Carly said he didn’t really get to see it and swiped at it and it went over Carly’s stick and just out to the open ice.”
That was the difference in the game. Good teams capitalize on the other team’s mistakes and take advantage of the opportunities given to them. The Bruins did that Sunday, while the Caps were left once again to lament over “what could have been.”
With just 30 games left in the regular season, and the spectre of separate four and five-game road trips upcoming, the Caps are slowly running out opportunities to move up in the standings. After Sunday’s loss, they remain in ninth place in the conference, one point behind Florida in the Southeast Division — and the third seed in the East.
But if Brooks Laich is forced to join Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green on the injured list for any extended period of time, their time may already be up. As Hunter said, though, we all just have to wait and see.
GAME NOTES: Johansson’s goal was his 11th of the season and his first since Jan. 18. Joel ward got an assist on the play, his first point since Jan. 24.
Alex Ovechkin led the team in hits and shots, with seven apiece.
Karl Alzner led the team with 11 blocked shots, the most by and Capitals player this season.
Jeff Schultz played in his third straight game. His coach described his play thusly: “He’s been okay. He’s a defensive defenseman. He’s not gonna to add no offense or toughness, but as long as he plays sound defensively he has a spot.”
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.