After a hard-fought, tight checking, gritty defensive performance all night — including killing eight minutes of penalties and six consecutively — a defensive breakdown and led to an innocent enough looking shot that the goalie will probably want to have back, but won’t get. Just like that, it only took 1:18 of overtime for the Boston Bruins to score the only goal of the game and send the Washington Capitals to a 1-0 loss in Game One of their best-of-seven first round matchup.
Let’s get the first thing clear: Braden Holtby was, for the most part, exceptional in this game. The sheer numbers just begin to tell the story, saving all 29 shots he faced in regulation. Sure, the Bruins missed a couple of opportunities, but Holtby truly was solid. And the defense in front of him, again for the most part, did their job, keeping the shooting lanes clear so he could see the majority of shots coming his way.
But the first shot Holtby saw in overtime slipped past him, and that’s all that matters now.
After Marcus Johansson’s effort was turned aside by Tim Thomas (17 saves), Brian Rolston collected the puck along the boards and hit Benoit Pouliot in the center of the ice, who found Chris Kelly streaking up the left wing. Dennis Wideman had been too far to the center of the ice and could only manage to offer token resistance as Kelly cleared him at the blue line and let go a long-range slap shot.
Holtby had come out of his crease to cut the angle down, as he should have. But in doing so he took too deep an angle toward the boards, leaving too much net to shoot at glove side. Kelly’s shot rose as it reached the goalie and Holtby, from his reaction, thought he had it all the way. But the puck avoided Holtby’s catching glove and was stopped only by the back of the net.
Was it tipped by the defender, ever so slightly? Impossible to tell from replays.
Holtby, about the game winner, told reporters, “I don’t really know what happened on it, I kind of lost it a little bit. I really don’t know.”
The first goal Braden Holtby allowed in a Stanley Cup playoff game was a game-winner.
After the game, as the Caps came out to give encouragement to their embattled goaltender, captain Alex Ovechkin put his forehead to Holtby’s, as is customary. But he lingered for a moment and was very specific in a few comments to the goalie as the rest of his teammates waited until the captain was finished.
For his part, Ovechkin played a very physical game, trading body shots with Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg all evening long. Ovechkin ended up with seven hits to lead all skaters (though Boston out-hit the Caps 40-29).
But the Great Eight managed just two shots all game, and just one on goal. Part of that was the Caps killing penalties for the first six and a half minutes of the second period, but part of it goes to the bigger problem that might end up spelling the doom of the Caps in the playoffs: the inability to muster any kind of consistent offensive pressure against Boston’s stifling defense.
Washington as a whole took just 32 shots total, 17 on goal. And 10 of those came in the third and overtime periods. In contrast, the Bruins took 52 total shots, 30 on goal. Credit the Caps for blocking 22 of Boston’s shots. But they need to be better at creating offense. There just was none last night. Thomas barely had to break a sweat.
This game was close. It was the kind of game that you could envision the road team stealing away based on the performance of a young goaltender in his first NHL Playoff game. Almost.
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.