WASHINGTON -- Two years ago, Braden Holtby was in goal when the Washington Capitals knocked the Boston Bruins out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This season, he did his best to keep the Bruins from even getting there.
Holtby and the Capitals shut out the Bruins for the third time in 2014-15 in a 3-0 victory Wednesday at Verizon Center. Washington is the first team in NHL history to win every game of a season series of at least three games by shutout.
The Bruins (41-26-13) trail the Detroit Red Wings by two points for third place in the Atlantic Division. Each team has two games remaining.
Boston is also in the race for a wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Bruins, who visit the Florida Panthers on Thursday and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, are one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and tied with the Ottawa Senators.
"Just the way we let [Washington] dictate the start of the game, especially in a game like that, you know we needed a lot more," Boston center Patrice Bergeron said. "It was definitely a disappointing start. … We definitely have to turn the page. Bottom line is we're still in control if we take care of business, so it's worrying about Florida now."
Holtby made 27 saves to earn his 41st victory in his NHL-leading 71st start. He stopped all 88 shots he faced against Boston this season.
"We seem to play well against them," Holtby said. "I don't know if it's coincidence or what. They're a team that we've had a lot of respect for in the past, so when the Bruins are our opponent, it gives us a little extra jump knowing that we can't give them anything. It's good that we played so well against them this year."
"It's fun to see [Holtby] play and he's bailing us out when he has to," said forward Marcus Johansson, who scored the Capitals' third goal. "It's all you can ask for."
"We were into our game and when we play like that, we're rolling," Johansson said. "We're tough to beat when we're doing that."
The Capitals have already clinched a berth in the playoffs, but they are still playing for second place in the Metropolitan Division and home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference First Round. Washington has 101 points, three more than the New York Islanders, who are in third place.
Boston goalie Tuukka Rask made 30 saves.
"I think we've had some good starts, but today for some reason we just weren't as sharp in the beginning," Rask said. "Sometimes it's going to cost us and sometimes it isn't, and today it did. Obviously when you play [an important] game like today, you'd think you're ready to push, but it doesn't happen sometimes."
Washington took advantage of Boston's slow start and scored two goals in a 2:17 span in the first period.
"I liked our response right out of the gate," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought we sort of set the tone. We went after them and we weren't sitting back. I liked the mentality."
Carlson scored at 4:49 to give Washington a 1-0 lead. Nicklas Backstrom sent a cross-ice pass to a streaking Carlson, who sent a wrist shot past Rask for his 12th goal.
Niskanen gave Washington a 2-0 lead at 7:06. Backstrom fed a pass up the boards to Niskanen, and his point shot deflected off the stick of Bruins defenseman Zach Trotman.
At 17:47 of the second period, Johansson put Washington ahead 3-0. Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov led the rush into the Bruins zone and played the puck behind the net, sending a backdoor pass to Johansson at the goal mouth.
"The first period really was the downside of our game tonight," Boston coach Claude Julien said. We didn't do enough to generate even a power play."
The assist was Kuznetsov's 13th point in the past 16 games.
Johansson's goal was his 20th. It's the first time he's reached that mark in his NHL career; his previous high was 14, in 2011-12.
"It's a milestone to get." Johansson said. "Barry wants me to score more, and it's fun when you do it, so I don't mind it. It was an unbelievable play by [Kuznetsov]. Scoring goals is fun, but most importantly we won the game, and we kept going."
Boston's best scoring chance came a 2-on-1 break in the second period. Holtby stopped Milan Lucic, who almost scored on the rebound.
"It was a really exciting day for me," Galiev said. "A dream come true."