We’ve hit the point in this series between the Bruins and Capitals where every game is the most important game of the series. It’s almost too easy to mention it.
But, even with that in mind, there’s no doubt that Game 4 was the most important contest of this series to date.
Following the Bruins outlasting the Capitals through three periods only to dominate the overtimes and take a 2-1 series lead on Wednesday night, Friday night came with the opportunity for the Bruins to grab a 3-1 series lead ahead of a move back to Washington or for the Capitals to tie the series and have momentum on their side heading back home. A massive difference.
It was enough to make the Bruins think they were going to absorb the Capitals’ best punch.
Yet, it was the Bruins who instead stepped up and came through with not only their best performance of the postseason, but perhaps their best performance of the entire 2021 season in a 4-1 victory on TD Garden ice. All while Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals flopped in a completely foreign fashion to those of us accustomed to the 21st century version of this rivalry.
“Well, I can speak to our team, and we wanted it and it showed showed out there,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the victory. “We’ve talked about getting better all the time as we go along, and that includes the series [and] that includes period-to-period. We’re starting to see the results here.”
Gifted a power play less than a minute into the first period on a too-many-men penalty against an overeager B’s squad, the five-skater Capitals were outworked for every inch of ice by the four-skater Bruins. This quickly became a theme of the evening. Outshot by a staggering 11-to-4 mark in the first period (11-to-2 if you took out the Capitals’ shots on the man advantage), Washington failed to make the Bruins’ near-goals come back to bite ’em.
In fact, they barely even made a push.
When Brad Marchand finally put the Bruins on the board with something to show for their absurd work against the Caps’ Ilya Samsonov, the Capitals had mustered just five shots on Tuukka Rask at the other end. A Tom Wilson shot off the crossbar, while not a shot on goal, was Washington’s best chance before Marchand broke the ice. In fact, it was their only real chance.
And when David Pastrnak and Charlie Coyle made it 3-0 in the third, the Capitals had upped their total to 13 shots, but the game was long over, and Wilson’s post-goal fight with Nick Ritchie said it all.
It was the wrong kind of fight the Caps needed to bring to this game. At least against this Bruins team.
The Bruins are smart enough to know that trying to match the Capitals hit-for-hit and fight-for-fight is a pointless endeavor. It doesn’t play to their strengths. So the Bruins display their toughness in ways that led to a win. When Dmitry Orlov went high on Kevan Miller and put the Caps down a man, the Bruins scored their first goal of the game. And when the Capitals made a late-game run at Rask, the Bruins once again decided to instead strike on the scoreboard.
“We wanted to make him pay the right way and not run around [being] stupid,” Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk said of his team’s 3-for-5 night on the power play. “And, you know, obviously if they’re going to keep taking penalties like that, then we’ve got to make them pay on the power play and we did a good job of that.”
The Bruins also displayed their own form of toughness, with 17 blocked shots, including six on Ovechkin alone. They also made sure to get their licks in on Ovechin before the night’s end, too, with Marchand and Pastrnak teaming up for a combo hit on the Washington captain in the third period, and without any sort of response from the Caps.
It was the kind of slow-kill that the Bruins have made look easy since the start of the Game 3 overtime, and has put the Bruins in the driver’s seat while making the Capitals look completely lost as they rapidly approach death’s door.
“The will to win, I think, is there; I know it’s there,” said Cassidy. “So that’s one that you have to have in the playoffs or you’re going nowhere. I think teams understand that that’s got to be built in and it is in our group right now.”
And it’s there as the Bruins prep for the next most important game of the series.
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.