The Washington Capitals' losing streak reached eight games Saturday night -- although only a herculean effort by Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas down the stretch kept the visitors from tying or perhaps even winning the game.
Thomas faced 26 third-period shots and stopped 25 of them, including a backhander by Alex Ovechkin in the closing seconds, as the Bruins held on for a 3-2 victory over the Capitals at TD Garden.
Thomas finished with 39 saves overall, making the goals Boston scored in the first period off the sticks of Patrice Bergeron, Andrew Ference and Blake Wheeler prove to be just enough. The Bruins, who had only two shots in the third, snapped a three-game losing streak of their own.
"(The attack) was consistent, consistent, consistent. I didn't have time to think right until Ovechkin's pad shot," said Thomas, who improved to 15-3-3 and continues to lead the NHL in both goals-against average (1.65) and save percentage (.951). "Maybe that was good."
Karl Alzner's second goal of the season with 5:28 remaining closed the gap to one and had the Capitals thinking this might be the night they ended their longest losing streak since Bruce Boudreau became coach early in the 2007-08 season and the team began its current run of three straight Southeast Division titles.
Washington instead fell out of first place, thanks to Atlanta's 7-1 win over New Jersey. Tampa Bay was also victorious Saturday, beating Buffalo 3-1, and by virtue of having played two fewer games, the Lightning hold the tiebreaker over the Capitals for second in the division.
"You outshoot a team 26-2 in the third period and you hopefully come through with more than a loss," Boudreau said. "I really believed we were going to tie it tonight. You could feel it. Thomas has beat an awful lot of teams with great stuff, and he did it to us."
Matt Bradley also scored for the Capitals and Michal Neuvirth made 18 saves, but he was shaky in the opening 20 minutes as the Bruins grabbed early control of the game.
Bergeron opened the scoring at 3:27 with his sixth of the season, getting open as multiple Washington defenders converged on the puck carrier Wheeler. He spun backward and dished to Bergeron, who snapped off a shot that beat Neuvirth.
Ference made it 2-0 at 8:13 with his first goal in 100 games. His slap shot through a screen found its way into the net and caused Boudreau to use his timeout in an attempt to settle the troops.
It might have helped momentarily, but the Bruins got a third goal before the period was up, as this time Bergeron returned the favor and backhanded the puck to Wheeler in the circle for his eighth of the season with 2:57 to play in the first.
"It was embarrassing for us," Alzner said. "We came in after the first period and said, 'We can't keep playing like that.' The first period killed us."
The Capitals came out much better in the second and got on the scoreboard at the 2:18 mark courtesy of Bradley's third goal. Then they really revved up their engines in the third, forcing Thomas to face a shooting gallery and be almost perfect in order to keep the Bruins in front.
"It certainly saved us. There's no doubt about that," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of the final horn. "It's unfortunate. … We were watching more than we were reacting."
Boston closed to within two points of Montreal for first place in the Northeast Division.
Washington, meanwhile, traveled to Ottawa after the game, where it will try to avoid a ninth consecutive loss and reclaim first in the Southeast on Sunday night.