Boston Bruins had a terrible defensive effort at Verizon Center, yielding five goals to a Washington Capitals team that was short Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green.
The defending Stanley Cup champions were back in the nation's capital Sunday afternoon, and they looked a lot more like a club that can repeat. Tim Thomas made 35 saves and the Bruins methodically dispatched the Capitals in a 4-1 victory.
"We just weren't playing our best of late," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "We knew we had to get back on track. We did a lot of good things last game and we wanted to carry it over to today. We knew that when we play our game we're a pretty good team, but when we don't, we're not. We enjoy winning and have a lot of fun when we're doing it."
Boston had lost six of its past 10 games, including a 2-1 defeat Saturday afternoon at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Washington had a chance to reclaim first place in the Southeast Division, but even with a strong performance from Ovechkin, the Capitals were outclassed by Thomas and the Bruins.
Washington has now lost six of its past nine games, and will face a critical contest Tuesday night in this building against the Florida Panthers, who are one point in front of the Capitals and now have a game in hand.
The Bruins struck twice in the first period, and both goals came shortly after faceoffs in the Bruins' zone. Milan Lucic put Boston in front at the 10:45 mark after Rich Peverley collected the puck near his own goal line and skated it all the way to the offensive blue line before slipping a pass to Lucic.
It was Lucic's 19th goal of the season. Peverley, who has played mostly on the third line but is filling in for an injured Nathan Horton, added an empty-net goal in the final minute and now has 36 points in 45 games for the Bruins.
"As forwards we were taking the puck to the net a lot more," Lucic said. "We were taking our shots, we were on pucks, we were making good, short passes and we were coming up the ice together. Especially in the Carolina game [a 3-0 loss], we felt we were too stretched out and making long-bomb passes and weren't able to get anything out of it.
"When we play as a five-man unit on the ice, as a 20-man unit as a team, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Lucic joined Tyler Seguin with 19 goals to lead the team, and Marchand joined them near the end of the first period. Patrice Bergeron sent the puck from behind the net in Marchand's direction near the left post, and his backhanded chip from close range squirted through Washington goaltender Tomas Vokoun at 18:38.
Seguin reclaimed the team lead with No. 20 in the third period. Washington center Marcus Johansson got a piece of a pass from Bergeron to Marchand, but not enough. Marchand sent it towards Seguin, and it deflected off him and in the net at 6:38 of the third period.
"It was a nice goal that I set for myself last year and this year," Seguin said of reaching 20. "I wanted to get that, and obviously I've got great linemates. It was nice to get it off their hard work."
Ovechkin had two great chances to score in the opening 20 minutes, but he hit the side of the net from inside the right circle, and Thomas made a great save on his attempt from about the same spot on his next shift.
"Tim's capable of doing that for us -- he's done that a lot for us in the past," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "I thought he was on top of his game today."
The Capitals are already without Backstrom -- their top center -- and they lost Brooks Laich with eight minutes left in the second period to an apparent left leg injury. Laich was checked behind the net by Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, and the versatile forward needed help to make it to the bench.
Laich came back onto the ice during the next television timeout to test his leg, but went right back to the dressing room, clearly still favoring the leg.
"I'm going to get some ice on it and see how I feel when I get up," Laich told reporters while sporting a large knee brace on his left leg and crutches after the game. "I'm not a doctor, but with these things sometimes there’s some swelling ... but I don't think it's anything serious."
The Capitals also lost rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov midway through the second period when he was hit in the face by the puck for the second time in as many days. Orlov's nose was broken by a puck Saturday afternoon in Montreal, and he was hit there again, but coach Dale Hunter said he doesn't expect the rookie to miss the important Tuesday tilt with the Panthers.
Johansson pulled one back for the Capitals in the third period. He received a pass from Perreault on the left wing and tried to feed Joel Ward at the right post. The puck went off Seidenberg and past Thomas at 12:04 of the period.
"Last 10 minutes of the first period, we were playing really good and we had shot after shot, but just couldn't get the puck in," Johansson said. "It's tough when you have those nights. It felt like we had enough chances to win the game. Sometimes it just doesn't bounce your way. Tonight was one of those nights."