Don’t look now, Pittsburgh Penguins fans, but the Washington Capitals keep closing in on a Metropolitan Division playoff spot after their, 4-2, win against the Boston Bruins Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena.
By the time the Penguins were taking on the Nashville Predators Sunday afternoon, Washington pulled to within two points behind Pittsburgh for 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Meanwhile, Lars Eller’s lucky deflection off of a Bruins forward’s stick and into the twine proved to be the game-winning goal in the third period of the Capitals’ victory.
Vitek Vanecek (18-11-5, 2.58 goals-against average, .912 save percentage in 37 games played) made 28 saves on 30 shots against in the win for Washington on Sunday.
Boston goaltender, Linus Ullmark (23-10-2, 2.59 goals-against average, .912 save percentage in 37 games played) stopped 29 out of 32 shots faced in the loss.
The Bruins fell to 45-22-5 (95 points) on the season and remain in command of 3rd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Capitals improved to 40-22-10 (90 points) overall and sit 4th in the Metropolitan Division.
Washington holds onto the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference currently and will have two games in-hand on the Penguins after Pittsburgh’s game against Nashville.
The New York Islanders (75 points) and Columbus Blue Jackets (74 points) would need to win at least nine games in addition to a miracle in which either the Caps or Pens lose for the rest of the regular season to make the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Capitals are currently on a three-game winning streak.
The B’s, meanwhile, finished their regular season series 2-1-0 against Washington after going 4-2-2 against the Capitals in 2020-21 (and 1-1-1 in 2019-20).
Jakub Zboril (right ACL), David Pastrnak (undisclosed) and Hampus Lindholm (lower body) remained out of Boston’s lineup on Sunday afternoon, though both Pastrnak and Lindholm have resumed skating.
Bruce Cassidy made a few changes to the defensive core of his lineup against the Capitals.
First, he promoted Derek Forbort to the first pairing alongside Charlie McAvoy while relegating Mike Reilly to the left side of the third pairing.
Cassidy also scratched Connor Clifton and inserted Josh Brown in his place next to Reilly on the third pairing.
Jack Studnicka and Anton Blidh joined Clifton in the press box at Capital One Arena as Boston’s healthy scratches in Washington, D.C.
Midway through the opening frame, Trent Frederic thought he had the game’s first goal, but the on-ice officials waved it off immediately and ruled it no good as a result of a distinct kicking motion.
Upon an official review, the call on the ice was confirmed– no goal– and the score remained tied, 0-0, as Frederic had just enough of a follow through motion to indicate intent behind the kick rather than a deflection while coming to a glide.
A few minutes later, Nic Dowd caught Brown with a high stick and presented the Bruins with their first power play of the afternoon at 11:47 of the first period.
Boston couldn’t convert on the skater advantage, however.
Late in the period, the B’s had another chance on the power play go unconverted when Dmitry Orlov boarded Marc McLaughlin at 18:13.
Entering the first intermission, the teams remained tied, 0-0, despite the Bruins leading in shots on goal, 8-7.
Boston also held the advantage in blocked shots (6-4) and faceoff win percentage (69-31), while Washington led in takeaways (3-2), giveaways (4-3) and hits (22-15) after 20 minutes of action.
The Capitals had yet to see any time on the power play, while the Bruins were 0/2 on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.
John Carlson (14) gave Washington a, 1-0, lead at 4:11 of the second period when he blasted a shot from the point past Ullmark’s glove side while the B’s netminder was tied up with Evgeny Kuznetsov on the doorstep.
Conor Sheary (20) had the only assist on Carlson’s goal as the Caps jumped out first on the scoreboard early in the second period.
Less than a minute later, Eller cut a rut to the penalty box for hooking McAvoy at 4:46, but once more the Bruins’ power play went by the wayside as they couldn’t convert on the skater advantage.
Boston did, however, catch Washington in the vulnerable minute after special teams play when Nick Foligno received a pass from Tomáš Nosek in the attacking zone and drove to the net before wrapping the puck around Vanecek as the Capitals goaltender came out to play an aggressive angle.
Foligno snuck a pass behind Vanecek through the crease where Curtis Lazar (8) slipped the puck into the open twine to tie the game, 1-1, at 7:55 of the second period.
Foligno (10) had the only assist on the goal.
One minute later, the Bruins scored again to take their first and only lead of the afternoon, 2-1, when Erik Haula (14) received a pass from McAvoy and entered the zone before letting go of an old-fashioned slap shot off the post and into the net on the glove side.
McAvoy (44) had the only assist on Haula’s goal at 8:55 and Boston surged in momentum.
Moments later, the Bruins tweeted that Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) would not return to the afternoon’s action after sustaining an injury in the first period.
Then Tom Wilson (23) tied things up, 2-2, after slipping a rebound through Ullmark’s five-hole from the doorstep after Ullmark made the initial save on a shot by Eller.
Eller (15) and Anthony Mantha (8) had the assists on Wilson’s goal and the Capitals evened things up at 14:50 of the second period by a stroke of luck– being in the right place at the right time– a trend that would continue for the rest of the afternoon.
After two periods, the score was tied, 2-2, despite Boston leading in shots on goal, 24-18, including a, 16-11, advantage in the second period alone.
The Bruins led in blocked shots (17-6) and faceoff win% (58-42), while Washington held the advantage in takeaways (8-3), giveaways (6-4) and hits (35-25).
Boston was 0/3 on the power play, while the Capitals still had yet to see any action on the skater advantage heading into the final frame.
Trevor van Riemsdyk tripped Lazar at 2:55 of the third period, but Boston’s power play fell to 6-for-46 on their last 46 power plays as the B’s couldn’t muster anything past Washington’s penalty kill.
Almost midway through the third period, Eller (10) sent a shot off of Haula’s stick as the puck redirected and caught a piece of Ullmark’s right shoulder before hitting the twine under the bar to give the Capitals a, 3-2, lead at 7:18 of the third period.
Nick Jensen (14) had the only assist on Eller’s goal.
Midway through the third, Taylor Hall tripped T.J. Oshie and presented the Caps with their first power play of the afternoon at 10:43 of the third period.
Boston’s penalty kill stood tall, however, as Washington wasn’t able to score a power play goal while Hall was in the box– nor were they able to capitalize on Frederic’s hooking infraction at 15:18.
With 1:54 remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker.
After a stoppage with 80 seconds left in the game, Cassidy used his timeout for one last potential rally.
Instead, in the dying seconds of the afternoon, Alex Ovechkin (45) whiffed on his first chance, but buried his second shot on the empty net after the two teams went end-to-end.
Kuznetsov (47) and Carlson (49) tallied the assists on Ovechkin’s empty netter at 19:58 and the Capitals led, 4-2.
At the final horn, Washington had won, 4-2, and finished the afternoon leading in shots on goal, 33-30, including a, 15-6, advantage in the third period alone.
The Caps left their own ice with the advantage in giveaways (6-5) and hits (45-39), while the Bruins left Capital One Arena leading in blocked shots (25-9) and faceoff win% (61-39).
Washington finished 0/2 on the power play, while Boston went 0/4 on the skater advantage in Sunday’s loss.
The B’s are now 15-6-2 (9-3-1 on the road) when tied after the first period, 12-14-3 (5-7-2 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal and 13-5-0 (6-4-0 on the road) when tied after the second period this season.
The Capitals improved to 11-7-4 (3-4-1 at home) when tied after one, 30-10-5 (14-5-2 at home) when scoring first and 13-2-2 (5-1-2 at home) when through two periods in 2021-22.
The Bruins went 2-2-0 on their four-game road trip and return to TD Garden for a three-game homestand beginning Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues before the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins visit Boston on Thursday and Saturday (April 16th), respectively.