Commentary

Bruins getting pushed around

Defending Cup champs getting knocked off their game by Capitals

Updated: April 15, 2012, 11:13 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The reason the Washington Capitals were able to beat the Boston Bruins 2-1 in double overtime Saturday at TD Garden, tying the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at a game apiece, had nothing to do with goaltending.

The Bruins simply weren't nasty enough.

They were outmuscled in Game 2 and lost all the critical battles. Boston seems to have misplaced its feisty style of play in the first two games of the series, and the Capitals have kept the defending Stanley Cup champions a soft bunch.

Sure, Washington's 22-year-old goaltender, Braden Holtby, was good once again, but the Bruins did not challenge him enough. Boston should be bombarding the Capitals' net with vigor and nastiness.

It's just not there at the moment.

"It sucks," Bruins forward David Krejci said. "You go all the way to second OT and you lose. You don't want to be on the losing side after five periods.

"Two goals over two games is not good enough, and we're going to have to help out Timmy [Thomas]."

Speaking of Thomas, he was the only Bruins player who showed that Bruins-style fire and grit when he drilled Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom in the face with his blocker in the waning minutes of regulation with the game tied at 1-all.

But it was Backstrom who scored the winning goal at 2:26 of the second overtime.

The Bruins could not execute their game plan, and that showed on the final scoresheet, as enforcer Shawn Thornton led Boston in shots with five.

"We need more," said forward Benoit Pouliot, who scored the Bruins' lone goal. "We've got some of the biggest guys in the league on our team, and we're a big team. Any goalie who's got traffic in front of him, it's always tough to stop the puck, so we've just got to do that the next couple of games."

After a scoreless first period for the second consecutive game, Washington gained a 1-0 advantage at 17:57 of the second when the Capitals' Troy Brouwer snuck his stick behind Thomas just as the goalie was about to cover the puck.

"On pucks like that, normally you put the paddle of your stick behind it and cover it," Thomas said. "Then I realized I couldn't without jamming [defenseman Greg Zanon] in the face. Then you don't like to cover it with the stick underneath because you can't trap it all the way, so I waited just a half of [a] second for his hand to clear, and I didn't even know Brouwer was over there. I didn't see the stick come in and hit it."

Boston's lone goal came at 12:13 of the third period when Pouliot crashed the net with reckless abandon and shoveled the puck past Holtby to tie the game at 1-all. It's that type of play coach Claude Julien wants to see from every line.

[+] EnlargeBoston Bruins
Mark L. Baer/US PresswireThe Bruins aren't winning the physical battles, so they're tied with the Capitals.

"I like his grittiness, and hopefully that can be contagious with some of our other guys right now," Julien said of Pouliot. "That's what we need from everybody. He's working hard and he's going to the net. He made a great pass last game for the winning goal, and a great effort [Saturday] to jump on that loose puck to tie the game and force overtime. We need more of that from other players."

The third line has provided all the Bruins' offense in the first two games. Along with his goal in Game 2, Pouliot had an assist Thursday, while Chris Kelly has a goal and an assist in the two games. Brian Rolston has two assists. That line is certainly doing its job.

"They are, and so is our fourth line," Julien said. "They're putting pucks to the net and they're going to the net. Some other guys and other lines are trying to be too cute, and there's nothing to show for it. We need to be a more gritty team, determined to go to the dirty areas and win battles."

Julien's assessment of his team's Game 2 performance was evident on Washington's winning goal at 2:26 of the second overtime. It came after a faceoff to the right of Thomas. Patrice Bergeron won the drop, but the Capitals quickly pounced on the puck. Washington's Marcus Johansson collected it and dished it to Backstrom for the tally.

"They outmuscled us to the puck and they got a second effort to make a pass in the right area and they scored the goal," Julien said. "We lost that battle and we lost the game."

Boston's top two lines have struggled offensively and are not playing with the feisty mentality the Bruins are accustomed to seeing. For example, forward Brad Marchand is at his best when he completely agitates the opponent, but the Capitals have held his game hostage in the first two contests.

"That line can be better," Julien said. "Those lines are capable of creating more, and obviously we're not doing enough because we're not scoring enough goals. We need to be better overall as a team and find ways to score goals."

Krejci agreed with his coach.

"My line is just not playing our game," Krejci said of his grouping with Milan Lucic and Rich Peverley. "I don't know what it is, but we have to find a way to help each other out there.

"Sometimes it seems like one guy is working and the other two are just waiting and hoping for the puck on a scoring chance, but it doesn't work like that. We've got to help each other out there. We've got good players, good size, too. We should be able to get some scoring chances."

The Capitals played patiently and successfully executed their 1-4 neutral-zone play, which handcuffed the Bruins for the first two periods. Julien said the Bruins were too cute in the neutral zone and did not use their speed to generate sustained pressure in the offensive zone.

"We made it easy on them," Julien said. "At this stage of the year, you'd like to see more net-front traffic and you'd like to see that puck going to the front more with guys heading in that direction. We don't have a good enough commitment in that area right now to win hockey games."

Even when the Bruins were able to gain control in the offensive zone, the Capitals blocked a total of 27 shots. Washington blocked 22 in Game 1. Boston has tried to use its point men, but the Washington forwards are quickly getting to the blue line and not allowing the likes of Zdeno Chara to unleash his devastating slap shot.

The Capitals return home with the series tied at 1-all feeling pretty good about their game.

"I would say it's going to be a long series," Alexander Ovechkin said.

It shouldn't be if the Bruins start playing their game, the kind that helped them hoist the Cup in 2011.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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