BOSTON – Troy Brouwer's offensive skills are high-caliber enough to earn him time on the Washington Capitals' top line every now and then.
Brouwer showed off his wrist shot for the Caps' biggest goal of the season Saturday.
On a power play, Brouwer's shot beat Boston goaltender Tim Thomas high to the short side with 1:27 remaining in regulation as the Caps defeated the Boston Bruins, 4-3, at TD Garden in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Washington now leads the series 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center.
"Some relief, that's for sure," Brouwer said about the feeling after the goal, which earned the Caps a win despite them squandering two leads in the game. "A lot of joy. Especially late in the game like that, we were getting buzzed a little bit, and I think they had a little bit of momentum off the power-play goal. So for us, to get a power play late, create a little bit of offense, ultimately get a goal, it's good."
Nicklas Backstrom had drawn the penalty on Benoit Pouliot after stealing the puck from the Boston forward. Pouliot slashed Backstrom in an attempt to recover the puck – a call the Bruins disagreed with.
"Tough call," Pouliot said. "I'll leave it to you guys, but it's a tough call to make with 2:50 left in the game when everything ... it's a grind out there. Sometimes you get the calls, sometimes you don't. And it happened, they got it."
Bruins coach Claude Julien classified the call as "weak." Replays showed Pouliot actually slashed Backstrom twice.
Washington had built a 2-0 lead in the second period, only to see the Bruins tie game with goals 28 seconds apart later in the stanza. Just 3:21 into the third period, Mike Knuble, an ex-Bruins forward who was a healthy scratch the first three games of the series, broke the tie buy beating Thomas after a rebound of a seemingly harmless Joel Ward wrist shot from the top of the right circle.
Thomas, last year's Conn Smythe Trophy winner, finished the night with 28 saves on 32 shots. Washington goaltender Braden Holtby finished with 34 stops on 37 shots.
"I don't look at things like that exactly," Thomas said in response to a question about being able to stop the Caps' last two goals. "The third goal I wish I could have controlled the rebound better, and then the last goal he fooled me and beat me clean. He's coming down with a lot of speed and he shot and I read that the shot was going lower. And by the time I even realized that the shot was going that high, I didn't even have time to raise my hand."
Knuble's goal didn't stand up as the difference, though, because the Bruins ended a 0-for-14 power-play drought at 8:47. Johnny Boychuk's one-timer eluded Holtby to tie the game for the second time on the night.
The Bruins have held the lead for just 14:35 of playing time in this series, and their inability to ever get out in front of the Capitals in Game 5 sealed their fate. Now the Bruins have less than 24 hours to rebound.
"It is what it is. We've got to be prepared for [Sunday] no matter what time the game's at," Boychuk said. "If it's at 7, 3, at 12 – it doesn't matter. Even though it's at 3, we just played right now, but we got to put it behind us, and focus in on this next game because it's do-or-die right now."
A lot was made Friday of the Bruins' line changes during their practice on Friday. But Washington head coach Dale Hunter's tweaks to his lines during the second period of Game 5 sparked an offensive eruption in a series that had been a defensive struggle with both teams scoring just seven goals apiece through the first four games and one period of the fifth.
With Brouwer moved up to a line with Alexander Ovechkin and Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson slid back next to Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin. And Jason Chimera dropped down from Backstrom's line to a unit with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks. Two of those new groups helped break a scoreless tie in the middle session.
Semin scored on the rebound of a Dennis Wideman shot, with a secondary assist to Johansson, at 11:16. And then Beagle scored on a wrist shot from the top of the left circle after David Krejci's failed to clear the puck. Chimera had just made a 1-on-1 rush into the Boston zone and forced Thomas to make a flamboyant pad save.
"[Hunter's] just trying to find the optimal amount of defense and offense on our lines, and make sure that everyone's being responsible out there," Brouwer said. "Especially in these tight games, because one goal, late in games, hasn't been holding up as of late. He's doing what he needs to do to try and win the game."
To start Game 5, the only line change Julien made was a flip of Brian Rolston and Tyler Seguin between the third and first lines, respectively. However the Bruins' bench boss moved put Seguin back with David Krejci and Milan Lucic in the second period and it paid off, as Dennis Seidenberg scored Boston's first goal with 2:39 left in the period and Seguin providing the net-front presence.
Twenty-eight seconds later, Brad Marchand stuffed a rebound through Holtby's 5-hole to tie the game at 5-5.
Somewhat saved by the second intermission, the Capitals put their resilience to use in the third to move within one win of winning the series.
"That's the plan. Our goal is to win the next game and that’s what we are focusing on right now," Holtby said.