WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals dominated the Boston Bruins for 40 minutes, fell apart for 10 and then recovered for a 5-3 victory Friday night at Verizon Center.
Washington opened a three-goal lead, gave it back and then secured its first victory in three tries against Boston this season in a game where both starting goaltenders did not finish the contest.
"I feel great about the fact that we played tremendous in the first two periods so I'm not going to try and spin any negatives on this," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "That's a great team and we shut them down with [nine] shots in two periods. They came out really hard in the third and got two power-play goals and a couple of breakdowns, but then we righted the ship and I don't think they had more than one scoring chance after they tied it."
The win was the third in a row and fifth in six games for the Capitals, who moved to the top of the Eastern Conference and level with the Los Angeles Kings for the most points in the NHL. It was Boston's first road loss of the season. The Bruins, having played three fewer games than the Capitals, continue to lead the conference in points percentage.
Boston tallied three straight third-period goals to erase Washington's lead, but Massachusetts native John Carlson blasted a shot past goalie Tuukka Rask with 6:35 remaining in the final period. Boyd Gordon won the faceoff and Eric Fehr pushed the puck back to Carlson for rocket from the right point and his second goal of the season. Alex Ovechkin added an empty-net goal in the final minute.
"It is certainly not the game we wanted but there are a lot of good things to take out of it," Carlson said. "We started just the way we wanted to play and we had a little bit of a letdown, but we got the finish we wanted against a tough opponent."
Tim Thomas was the NHL's second star for the first month of the season and had the lowest goals against average (0.72) of any goalie in his first seven games in more than 50 years. Michal Neuvirth was named the rookie of the month for October after winning seven of 10 decisions.
Both were on the bench by the end of this contest. Thomas was pulled for the start of the third period after yielding three goals on 25 shots, while Neuvirth was removed from the game in favor of Braden Holtby after allowing three goals on five shots to start the final period.
"Let's put it that way -- it had nothing to do with Tim," Boston coach Claude Julien said.
Added Boudreau about his goalie: "I thought [Neuvirth] didn't look very good on goals two and three and he was looking over [at the bench]. Anytime a goalie is looking over here I said, ‘OK, let's [make the change].' I don't know if it was fair to Braden … but he did outstanding."
Holtby, a fourth-round pick in the 2008 draft, made his NHL debut for the Capitals and stopped four shots in the final 10:09 for his first career victory. He has been with the team since Semyon Varlamov was injured for the second time this season and backed up for the previous four games.
"It's pretty amazing," Holtby said. "I was pretty shocked when Bruce told me, but it was kind of cool to go into a tight game -- definitely got the heart pumping."
The Capitals dominated the Bruins in the second period after a scoreless opening 20 minutes. Washington outshot Boston 17-6 in the middle period and opened the three-goal advantage.
Defenseman Tyler Sloan got it started 59 seconds in. Tomas Fleischmann won a faceoff back to Sloan, and his shot from the right point beat Thomas along the ice with several bodies in front of him. It was Sloan's first goal of the season and first since scoring in back-to-back games Nov. 4 and 6 of last year.
Mike Green made it a two-goal advantage at 7:35. Ovechkin sent a pass from the top of the left circle to Green at the edge of the right circle. He collected the puck, slipped inside a sliding a falling Gregory Campbell and snapped a shot from between the hash marks into the top right corner for his third tally of the campaign.
Green, who led the League in goals and points by a defenseman the past two years, has 3 goals and 6 points in the past four games after a slow start that was compounded by an upper-body injury.
Alexander Semin put Washington in front 3-0 with an incredible individual effort. Semin deflected a point-to-point pass out of his zone with the Capitals killing a penalty and then beat Patrice Bergeron to the left wall to retrieve the puck. After getting by Bergeron, Semin worked a give-and-go with Green before snapping a shot past Thomas at 17:50.
Semin and Ovechkin continue to pace the Capitals with 8 goals each. It was the third shorthanded goal of Semin's career.
"He's just a great player," Green said. "He's so skilled and anytime he has the puck I think he's the most dangerous guy in this League to have it. It doesn't surprise me -- I see him every day so I know what he's capable of."
After being outshot 25-9 in the first 40 minutes, the Bruins charged back to start the third period. Michael Ryder put home a rebound of a Dennis Seidenberg shot with Boston on the power play at 3:07 of the final period. It was Ryder's fourth goal of the season and second extra-man tally in as many games against the Capitals.
Nathan Horton added another power-play goal 55 seconds later after John Erskine went to the box for interference. Horton's shot from the left point beat Neuvirth and was his team-leading sixth goal of the season.
Shawn Thornton completed the comeback with a backhanded shot on breakaway after Brad Marchand set him free with a long outlet pass. Semin had carried the puck into the Boston zone but fell down and David Steckel also went down as he turned to get back and cover Thornton.
"We came back in the third. I like the character on this team," Thornton said. "I like that we didn't back down and tried to get ourselves back in the game."
Added Julien: "When you play 20 minutes of a 60-minute game the way you should you're not going to win too many of those. It took us a while to figure out what we had to do there, even though I thought the plan was pretty clear."