It’s just three games, but the Bruins have the Capitals on the ropes and in a bad way.
Start with the obvious: The Capitals have used three goalies in three games, and while that may seem like an obviously bad thing, they’ve actually gotten career-best contributions from two different goalies in their last two games. Third-string netminder Craig Anderson stopped 44 shots in Game 2, and Ilya Samsonov jumped off the COVID list/his suspension from the team and made 40 saves in over 85 minutes of hockey in Game 3. But…. the Caps lost both games.
Unless Ollie Kolzig is dusting off his pads and hoping out of a time machine, it’s hard to imagine the Capitals getting better than what they’ve had in their last two games, and with nothin’ to show for it.
Game 3 also ended with Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin berating his own teammate, allegedly saying, “don’t sleep, bitch!” to the 24-year-old Samsonov after his miscue delivered him his first playoff loss of his career. The Caps are also a wounded group, with Lars Eller out of action for two games and TJ Oshie considered a game-time decision for Game 4. Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Ovechkin all ended the regular season battling injuries and don’t exactly look 100 percent.
In other words, Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette is running out of tricks.
Which is why the Bruins need to go for the throat while they still can in Friday’s home-ice meeting with the Caps.
The difference between a 3-1 series lead and a 2-2 tie through four games is an obvious one. It’s especially obvious when considering that a Washington win would not only tie the series, but send it back to D.C. with the Capitals returning to the benefit of last change and with momentum on their side. That’s a gigantic, gigantic swing.
“[The Capitals] know the importance of coming out and having a really good game,” Brad Marchand said Friday. “We just have to be able to match that intensity and be prepared. It’s about preparing all day long and bringing our best game.”
“The team we’re playing has been there,” Bruce Cassidy said of the Capitals. “They understand the urgency like we did going into Game 2. Everybody understands the urgency of the next game after a loss. We expect their best tonight.”
If there’s one substantial edge for the Bruins in this one, it’s been with their preparation for the Capitals’ counters. There’s been segments where the Bruins have been forced to weather some serious storms — you’ve seen extended stretches where the Capitals have won every 50-50 battle for a loose puck and the Bruins went the entire third period of Game 3 without a five-on-five shot — but they’ve come out on the right side of it more often than not. In fact, it seems that every Capital goal in this series has been off a deflection from a bottom-six talent or with the Bruins making an own-zone goof-up.
Through the first week of the postseason, the Bruins are surrendering the fourth-fewest all-situation high-danger chances per 60, at 7.96. The Bruins have also posted the sixth-best team high-danger save percentage. That’s typically a good formula.
The Bruins also seem to be doing a solid job of putting the Caps in a sleeper. Ovechkin’s post-goal celebration in Game 3 was the most energy he’s shown all series. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s first game back off the COVID list was a snoozer. Tom Wilson, while physical as ever, is out here getting laughed at by Bruins fourth liner Chris Wagner. Even Anthony Mantha, the Caps’ deadline addition who totaled four goals and eight points in 14 games with Washington, has been quiet.
This is yet another game where the B’s can try to dictate the matchup against those players, too.
The Bruins also have three games where they’ve been forced to withstand blows from those players, or counter-punch ’em back with their own high-end talents, and have established what should feel like an obvious edge.
Especially after the way Game 3 swung their way with another night of game-tying and/or winning goals from their top six.
“From our side, guys do feel good when you get a win like that,” Cassidy said. “Hopefully it does say, ‘Hey, we won a game where we broke down in areas. Let’s tidy up those areas and we can be even better and keep building on it.’ And the team that [does that] tends to gets on rolls, right? They keep building on their game and get better and better. And that’s obviously what we wanna be.”
“We just want to make sure we put ourselves in the best situation,” said Marchand.
And there’s no doubt what that’d mean when the dust settles on Game 4.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.