Skill goes a long way in the NHL playoffs, but experience even more so.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the two members of the Washington Capitals whose names are engraved on the steely facade of the Stanley Cup, Mike Knuble and Troy Brouwer, netted lead-taking goals in the third period of Saturday’s Game 5 in hostile Boston.
Brouwer’s power play slapshot with 1:27 left in regulation held up as the game-winner, giving the Capitals a 4-3 victory on the road to take a 3-2 series lead in their first round match-up with the Boston Bruins.
Alexander Semin, and Jay Beagle also lit the lamp for the Caps, whose second period lead of 2-0 and third period lead of 3-2 were both summarily erased within six minutes of their creation. Rookie netminder Braden Holtby continued the recent Washington tradition of sensational rookie performances in the playoffs, stopping 34 of the 37 shots on net and getting assistance from the post on a couple of other occasions.
After a scoreless first frame, Semin and Beagle staked Washington to that initial two-goal lead in the second with a lot of hustle and being in the right place at the right time. Semin, known primarily as a sniper, positioned himself on the far left post while the Caps worked possession down in the right corner. When Bruins netminder Tim Thomas allowed a rebound directly in front of the net, Semin was there to grab the puck and step around Thomas’s outstretched arm to slide the puck into the gaping net.
While Semin’s strike came from directly in front of the net, Beagle put the puck past Thomas on a long wrist shot from the left faceoff circle. His hustle through the neutral zone allowed Beagle to keep an errant Bruins clearing attempt out of their zone, and the defensive center unleashed a wrister that tipped off defenseman Johnny Boychuk’s stick and under Thomas’s glove hand.
As much momentum as Washington was carrying after the Semin and Beagle markers, two Bruins goals in 28 seconds late in the second period seemed to sap all energy from Washington and deliver it to the home Boston bench.
Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg opened up the scoring on Boston’s side of the ledger. The German-born Bruin shrugged off a hit from Alexander Ovechkin in the neutral zone to slip in as the third player on a Boston odd-man break, taking the centering pass from Milan Lucic and blasting a shot through Holtby.
On the ensuing shift the Bruins took advantage of a rare occurrence in front of Washington’s net this series: a juicy rebound. With traffic in front of the net, Holtby couldn’t handle Rich Peverley’s shot, which dropped squat into the crease. Brad Marchand was unchecked, easily slamming the puck through Holtby’s five-hole to draw things even at two.
After ceding momentum at the end of the second frame, Washington regained it less than four minutes into the third when Knuble pounced on a rebound from a shot by Joel Ward, slotting it past Thomas before the goaltender could recover.
Coming at a crucial moment early in the third period, Knuble’s strike was doubly impressive for the lack of game action the veteran winger had been receiving in the postseason. The veteran winger, oldest on Washington’s roster at the ripe age of 39, had a seat in the press box for the first three games of this series.
Boston’s Boychuk tied the game again midway through the third on a blast from the left point, the B’s first power play goal of the series. Coming into the second Saturday of the 2011-12 playoffs, the Bruins were the only of the 16 playoff teams yet to have scored with a man advantage.
Holding the lead once again, the Capitals retreated into a defensive posture as has been their strategy during Dale Hunter’s tenure. When Boychuck struck on the power play to knot things up after Knuble’s goal, Washington had only managed one shot in the intervening five-and-a-half minutes to Boston’s seven.
Washington picked up the offense again after Boychuk’s tying goal, and Nicklas Backstrom drew a late slashing penalty on Boston’s Benoit Pouliot to send the Caps to the power play. Backstrom and his compatriots had little luck on their initial push with the man advantage, but Brouwer’s transition goal as time wound down in the third period was all the action Washington needed to secure the win and home-ice advantage.
These two teams will next face off in less than 24 hours, with the puck drop for Game 6 scheduled at 3:00 pm in the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon. Should Washington win, the Caps will advance to the second round of the playoffs against an opponent yet to be determined; should the Bruins win, the series will return to Boston’s TD Garden on Wednesday evening for the ultimate Game 7.