March 28, 2014: The last time the Boston Bruins beat the Washington Capitals in a game of hockey, played under the rules of the National Hockey League.
The last Bruins team to beat the Capitals featured the likes of Milan Lucic, Jarome Iginla, Johnny Boychuk, Shawn Thornton, Dougie Hamilton and several others that no longer call Boston home, or even have jobs in the NHL today.
Since taking over as the head coach of the Bruins, Bruce Cassidy has seen the same result when matching up against the Capitals: a loss.
After each of those losses, Cassidy has been asked something along the lines of, “what do you have to do to beat these guys?” Or, “what is it about the Capitals that works so well against you?”
It’s a hard question to answer, even though the answer is so simple: there is no great answer.
“Well, I don’t have a great answer to that or we probably would’ve pulled it out of our hat a while ago,” Cassidy said following the Bruins 14th consecutive loss to the Capitals. A loss that also ended the Bruins season-high five game win streak.
Thursday’s effort was probably the Bruins best of the 14 game streak, one they could have, and probably should have won.
“I think an effort like tonight. First of all, it starts with defending well because they’re a very good offensive team,” Cassidy added. “We did that for the most part. We, again, gave up some quality chances, but it wasn’t a lot of quantity.”
The Bruins came out flying, looking like a team ready to end a disastrous streak as they peppered Braden Holtby with 17 first period shots. But the 17 shots were just that, shots, as the Bruins failed to get any pucks past Holtby in the opening 20.
In a period where the Bruins showed much life, all they had to show for it was a 1-0 deficit at intermission after Jakub Vrana was able to sneak past John Moore and Torey Krug before racing in all alone on Jaroslav Halak, and beating him with a quick wrister.
After Holtby continued to turn away chance after chance by the Bruins, the home team was finally able to get on the board at the 14:11 mark of the second period. Left all alone in the Capitals zone, Ryan Donato scored the equalizer, his sixth goal of the season.
Donato was just as surprised as anyone else that he was given a ton of space in the offensive zone.
“Yeah, it doesn’t happen often in this league. We did, actually, some video the other day and that was one of the things we corrected, was make sure you have a third guy when their D goes down, and obviously, paying attention to that paid off,” said Donato.
Cassidy praised Donato, who as Donato noted, picked up on some things after some video work to correct a similar mistake in a game earlier this week.
“What I liked about that play that he scored on was that he actually covered up for the defenseman. He was in the right position when the puck found him, so as a coach those are the strides you hope players make over time,” said Cassidy. “One that he missed in assignment is very similar the other night, so good for him because he can finish plays, we know that.”
The tie lasted a whole 39 seconds as Alex Ovechkin’s 31st goal of the season helped the Capitals regain a one-goal lead.
The Bruins wouldn't go down without a fight after Ovechkin’s tally, as David Krejci’s power play goal almost five minutes into the third, tied things once again.
But just like before, the Capitals quickly regained the lead. This time it was 1:09 later and off the stick of Nicklas Backstrom. The goal was nothing pretty and one that Halak had to and should have saved.
“You know, it was just one of the shots, you know, top of the circle kind of low glove, so like I said, I just need to make a save on that one and it could have been still 2-2, and we would still be in the game, and you know, from that point on, you know, they just had it and they got another one,” said Halak who made 18 saves on 20 shots. "So tough sequence, but like I said, you know just need to be better I guess.”
It was a frustrating loss for a Bruins team who certainly felt the effort was enough to earn two points against a team like the Capitals and a team that has been able to do whatever they please against the Bruins for almost five years now.
What frustrated the Bruins the most was that with how well they were playing, their momentum from their two game-tying goals ended up being short lived.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating. When you get back in the game like that you want to try to stay with that momentum and it seemed like every time we got a goal there they scored right after,” said Brad Marchand, who finished the night with two shots on goal and a minus-three.
“So it’s tough to win when you do that, but we had a good game. I mean, we could have easily won that game, their goalie had a lot of good saves, but that’s how it goes sometimes.”
Holtby made 39 saves in his 16th career win against the Bruins. With Thursday’s stellar performance, the Capitals goalie runs his lifetime record against the Bruins to 16-2 with a .944 save percentage, a 1.85 goals-against average and four shutouts.
If it makes you feel any better, the Bruins are not the only team Holtby has dominated in his career. Against the Montreal Canadiens, Holtby is 12-2-2 lifetime, with a .941 save percentage, a 1.72 goals-against average and two shutouts.
But back to Marchand for a second, who didn’t factor in any of the scoring, but certainly got himself involved Thursday night.
As you may remember, back in October in the Capitals 7-0 opening night beat down of the Bruins, Marchand took exception to Lars Eller’s celebration after his goal extended the Capitals lead to seven.
Angered by Eller’s action, Marchand later dropped the gloves against Eller who was unwilling to dance with Marchand. The punches that Eller took left him bloodied. After the game Eller made it clear he was not happy and that it will be "handled next game."
Finally, in the second period Thursday, the two exchanged hits with Eller immediately dropping his gloves following the hit. Marchand kept his gloves on, declining to engage with Eller. As the referee tried to break things up, Eller continued to tug on the jersey of Marchand, trying to spark any sort of reaction. After several jersey tugs finally took Marchand to the ice, Eller was given a minor penalty, with Marchand skating away scott-free.
"He obviously didn't want any part of it, everybody saw,” said Eller. "I would rather fight him, but can't fight a guy that doesn't want to fight. Everybody saw what he is, I don't think there's a lot of integrity in his game."
“Oh yeah, I mean, I haven’t looked at the stat sheet but I don’t really feel the need to check proof anything,” Marchand later followed up with. “He plays you know, maybe 10, 12 minutes a night and I’m playing 20. So in a one-nothing game – to go on the power play, it doesn’t make a lot of sense so that’s the way it is.”
For what it’s worth, Eller logged 15:16 of ice time Thursday, Marchand 23:01.
On Super Bowl Sunday, the Bruins and Capitals will meet for the final time in the regular season. The contest will give the Bruins a chance to end their losing streak, and give Marchand and Eller a chance to settle any scores that still remain.