By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Maybe it’s not in our best interest to get overly excited about the eighth and ninth games of a 56-game 2021 season.
But this is the Bruins and Capitals we’re talking about. This rivalry has been so one-sided for so long that only losing by a goal or two has at times felt like a victory. While the Bruins have been a perennial Stanley Cup threat for the last three years, the Capitals’ dominance over Boston has made it feel like the B’s are a mere eight seed.
Saturday’s three-goal comeback, though ending with an overtime loss for the Bruins, was a start. But Monday’s three-goal comeback and victory by way of five unanswered goals? That’s huge. And it goes beyond the third-period rally.
We can’t lose sight of how the Bruins completed this comeback: at even strength.
Often considered a one-line team that pushes themselves over the competition with special teams brilliance, the Bruins beat the Capitals for five even-strength goals Monday night, while their power play went a woeful 0-for-4, and actually derailed the Black and Gold’s momentum every single chance they had. (They even fumbled on 58 seconds of a five-on-three in the second period, which honestly felt like it could’ve been a game-ender for the Bruins.)
The Bruins also found the game-tying and go-ahead goals from players off their top line, with free agent addition Craig Smith and defense-first defender Brandon Carlo scoring the goals that pushed the Bruins on top.
Oh, and the Bruins matched the Caps’ physicality by way of Trent Frederic’s fight with Tom Wilson. The Bruins felt the energy of Frederic’s bombs, while the Caps were annoyed with it given Wilson’s importance to the team. That’s part of the recipe that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy wants from Frederic to ‘even’ things up with this foe.
Now, the Caps aren’t perfect. Vitek Vanecek, while solid in his two-game showing with the Bruins, is not Washington’s starter. That’s Ilya Samsonov, who remains out of action due to COVID protocols. The Capitals were also without Evgeny Kuznetsov (also out due to COVID protocols) for both of these games.
But in a series that’s been repeatedly dominated by the Capitals, capturing three of a possible four points, and with another 12 points on this table in this season series, the Bruins’ strong start could be the kickstart at flipping this one.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 5-3 final at Capital One Arena…
Pasta making immediate impact
After missing most of training camp, as well as the first seven games of the season due to his recovery from offseason hip surgery, Bruins winger David Pastrnak didn’t feel like waiting to get involved in the action.
Over two games, the 24-year-old scored two goals and added an assist, and finished with an absurd 26 attempts (that ties Pastrnak for the eighth-most attempts among all Bruins for the season), and generated seven scoring chances.
The second game was noticeably better for Pastrnak, too, which maybe was to be expected given how Pastrnak felt after his first game in five months last Saturday.
“I felt like I got hit by a train after the first game,” Pastrnak offered after Monday’s victory. “I feel great now, so let’s go take the train now [to Philadelphia].”
With Pastrnak in his normal spot on Boston’s top line, the Bruins are now free to figure out what their ideal middle-six forward grouping looks like, with Craig Smith looking like a solid fit with either David Krejci or Charlie Coyle. Now, the new problem for the Bruins (and Smith) right now is that the Bruins are still without top wingers (Jake DeBrusk and Ondrej Kase), so maybe the Bruins are still out here not knowing exactly what it is that they have.
Brandon Carlo continues to factor into offensive game for B’s
After spending the last few years as the last line of defense for Torey Krug’s innovative offensive style, Brandon Carlo is using 2021 to play with more of an attacking mindset, with two goals and an assist through nine games in 2021. That pace would actually see Carlo match his single-season career-high 19 points, which was set last season. (Probably worth noting that this is a 56-game season, so that’d be impressive, to say the least.)
Getting more involved in the offense has always been an ask out of Carlo, and it’s finally playing out before our eyes.
“I want to be part of the offense and I think that all starts with trying to get pucks towards to net,” Carlo said. “Just trying to gain more comfort in that offensive zone, find my spots, find the right time to jump in, and be available.
“It’s definitely a work in progress still, but after each game I’ve been doing a little bit of video and [the coaches are] doing a great job of helping me recognize those areas where there’s potential for offense within my game.”
With Matt Grzelcyk still on the shelf with a new lower-body injury, the Bruins will take what they can get here.
How did the Caps use Chara against the Bruins?
Let’s be real: It was downright weird seeing Zdeno Chara in a Capitals uniform.
I think the Bruins felt a little weird going against their captain of 14 years, too. The Bruins went in hard on Chara, sure, but it didn’t seem like they went in as hard as they would against Brenden Dillon, John Carlson, and Nick Jensen. Maybe that was to be expected. Brad Marchand said he had no interest in “poking the bear.”
But Chara clearly didn’t have any reservations about going against his former team, and neither did the Capitals.
On the ice for 41 total minutes over his two-game set with the Bruins, the 43-year-old Chara scored the second goal of Monday’s meeting, and finished the series with a plus-1 rating, four shots on goal, and a staggering eight blocks.
The Capitals also used Chara as the rock of a penalty-killing unit that killed off seven of their eight trips to the box, and the Bruins landed just three shots on goal during Chara’s 6:19 of shorthanded time on ice. He can still kill.
At five-on-five, Chara saw a heavy dose of the Bergeron Line throughout the two-game series (nearly eight minutes on Monday, and nine minutes last Saturday). Given the defensive-zone nature of that assignment, that was a matchup that the Bruins certainly won from a shots standpoint, with a 6-1 shots advantage on Monday and 5-3 advantage on Saturday. Scoring, however, was even on Monday at 1-1, and favored Chara 1-0 last Saturday.
Right now, it feels like both parties are getting what they wanted out of this. But Chara’s signing in D.C., as well as the Bruins’ decision to move on from the 6-foot-9 defenseman, was never about early regular-season contests.