This was the game for the Washington Capitals to win. They had the defending Stanley Cup Champions on the ropes. They took the best shot the Boston Bruins had in Game Four, and got it back to hockey in Game Five to take a 3-2 advantage in the series and bring it back to the friendly confines of Verizon Center.
But Boston didn’t lie down. And the Caps couldn’t keep them down.
As has been the case with every game in this series, Game Six was a one-goal game. In such games, the margin for error is non-existent. So it stands to reason that one error, compounded by another, another and yet, another, would eventually prove to many errors on one play.
Such was the case Sunday evening, as the Capitals fought from behind almost all game, tied it up late, then once in overtime watched all they had worked for slip through their fingers on a play that three different players could have taken responsibility for. The defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins escaped elimination and forced a Game Seven in their barn Wednesday night with the 4-3 overtime win.
The game-winning goal was set up not by some stroke of genius pass or even sacrifice of one’s body. No, this goal was set up on the previous play, as veteran defenseman Dennis Wideman carelessly and needlessly tossed a puck the length of the ice for an icing call, which gave the Bruins an offensive zone face-off 3:03 into the extra frame. It was the second icing of the short overtime with the Caps top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson on the ice.
Backstrom won the resulting draw and Roman Hamrlik retrieved the puck and gave it back to the veteran centerman, who started up ice. Then, unpressured, Backstrom tried to make a pass into the center of the ice from inside his own blue line. The pass was easily picked off by David Krejci, who handed off to Milan Lucic, who was building up speed seeing the play unfold.
Hamrlik stepped up and forced Lucic to slip the puck to Tyler Seguin, who by that time had a full head of steam. Seguin had no one to defend him as Wideman inexplicably drifted behind Hamrlik, caught out of position. Seguin came down the slot, unmolested, and waited Holtby to commit. Seguin gave the rookie a deft faint with his left leg and Holtby went down early. Seguin skated around the fallen goalie and dumped the puck into the yawning goal.
Backstrom, Wideman and Holtby all made errors on the play. Just like that, the game had ended, prompting a Game Seven back at TD Garden.
“That’s a save that I want to make and I should have learned from the play before that,” said Holtby, who finished with 27 saves. “That they were going to try and out-wait like that if they had time. It was my fault.”
Of the play, Backstrom said, “I was trying to hit Marcus [Johansson] there but I missed the pass, so bad turnover by me.”
The Capitals had several opportunities to make this a not-so-close game. Ovechkin, Johnasson and Keith Aucoin all had glorious scoring opportunities that they could not take advantage of, including Ovechkin ringing one off a crossbar late in the contest. In addition, they were 0-for-4 on the power play.
But the bottom line was that Boston was the more desperate team out there, and they played like it. Though the Caps held the shots on goal advantage, the Bruins controlled the play for large stretches of the game. The Caps counter-punched to tie the game after every Boston goal until the winner, but that was part of the problem — Boston kept taking the lead after every Washington goal.
The Capitals now face a daunting challenge. They must trek back to Boston, to play the defending champion in their building in Game Seven. Most pundits did not give the Caps much of a chance in this series, based on their spotty regular season performance. The Caps have given Boston all they can handle, and more at times. The rookie goalie has been solid-to-outstanding in every game. The defense is blocking shots left and right. Their top lines are scoring.
They’ll need all of that again Wednesday night. There is no more room for error.
There have been two big head-scratchers in this series, and again in Game Six we had the same questions. What, exactly, are Dennis Wideman and Keith Aucoin doing to garner the large minutes that coach Dale Hunter is trusting them with?
Wideman has had, to be polite, an up-and-down series. He made several pivotal defensive plays in the Game Two win in Boston, but he was also the goat on the overtime goal in Game One and partly responsible last night. He is minus-four in the series, worst on the team, tied with the now-benched Jeff Schultz. He has just one assist. Yet, it was Wideman that was second on the team in total time-on-ice last night, a mere one second less than Karl Alzner. Mike Green, who scored his first goal since October in the first period, played seven minutes less than Wideman, and only 4:28 in the third period.
Wideman also logged 6:03 of power play time. Green had 0:48 and John Carlson 0:41.
The other puzzler is Aucoin, the 33-year old AHL veteran. I get that he was originally called up to try to inject some life into the offense. His presence up until this point in the series, however, has been negligible. But last night he logged more power play time (4:01) than Brooks Laich (3:07), Troy Brouwer (3:45), Alexander Semin (3:07) and Mike Knuble (0:00). In fact, Backstrom and Johansson only beat him out by 26 and 32 second respectively.
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.