BOSTON – As far as being battle-tested for the playoffs, the Washington Capitals experienced a full barrage of wild circumstances Thursday night. Now they've just got to get to the postseason to put what they've learned to use.
The Capitals had to overcome the ejection of a key forward, an injury to their starting goaltender and a blown two-goal lead in the final minutes of regulation to top the Boston Bruins 3-2 in a shootout at TD Garden. With the win, the Capitals pulled even with eighth-place Buffalo in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 86 points; the Capitals have four games remaining while Buffalo still has five to play, including a home game against Pittsburgh on Friday.
"Well, we're back on track," Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said, "and right now, pressure's on Buffalo. ... Sometimes you don't look at the standings and right now you have to look at the standings and see what's going on. We'll happily take two points."
The Capitals won the shootout 3-2, with Brooks Laich scoring the deciding goal against Tim Thomas.
Coming off an emotional 5-1 loss to Buffalo on Tuesday, the Capitals were outshot 7-2 by Boston in the first period and 15-9 through a scoreless 40 minutes. The challenge of beating the Bruins was made more difficult in the first period by a game misconduct issued to Jason Chimera and an injury that knocked out starting goalie Tomas Vokoun.
Chimera hit Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid into the end boards with six minutes remaining in the first period. McQuaid suffered a cut above his eyebrow and wasn't feeling well, so he was held out of the rest of the game. Chimera was sent to the dressing room with the misconduct and a five-minute charging major.
While the Capitals were able to kill off the entire major penalty, it still proved costly. Vokoun, playing for the first time in seven games after missing time with a lower-body injury, had to give way to backup Michal Neuvirth because of an injury. Capitals coach Dale Hunter said Vokoun was "OK" after the game.
Neuvirth finished with 19 saves on 21 shots.
"Like I've said so many times, it's not easy to come into a game from the bench," Neuvirth said. "But the guys did an outstanding job, they helped me a lot. And it's a huge two points for us."
Dennis Wideman got the Capitals on the board at 7:59 of the third period. Marcus Johansson then doubled that lead with a one-timer on a 2-on-1 with Ovechkin at 9:54. Johansson's stick actually broke, but the puck still had enough on it to elude Thomas.
The Bruins, who needed to accumulate two points to clinch a playoff berth, took a while to break through. David Krejci finally got Boston on the board with a tip of a Zdeno Chara shot with 3:10 remaining in regulation.
Riding the wave of emotion after that goal, Boston kept the pressure on Washington. Andrew Ference's slap shot from the high slot at with 1:16 left tied the game 2-2.
"There was half a period left, and our guys, you know, battled back, and if we could get one goal, again, that would certainly give us the energy that we needed,"
Boston coach Claude Julien said. "And we found that goal, and from there on in, we seemed to have a little bit more energy and excitement to our game, and again, for as tough a night as it was, it's at least nice to see that when you're down 2-0, you're capable of coming back and at least salvaging a point."
But Neuvirth outdueled Thomas in the shootout, giving the Capitals the two points they desperately needed.
"It happens. We knew they were a good team here and we kept them in check pretty much but until the last couple minutes. ... It was one of those things that that's hockey. You've got to battle back," Hunter said.
Washington is off Friday before last-place Montreal comes to Verizon Center on Saturday. While Hunter joked that easier games would be welcome before he's "gray enough," Ovechkin admitted that the Caps never seem to make it easy on themselves.
"Unfortunately not," the star forward said. "Again, it's a situation that we are in right now and we have to just play every game like it's going to be our last game. We have four games left -- and we have to win four."