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Bruins Leave D.C. Empty-Handed After Timid Start

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Bruins knew what was at stake on Wednesday night, playing their game in hand amidst the heated playoff race in the East.

The Ottawa Senators were tied with them at 95 points, and a crucial two points with a win over the Washington Capitals would give the B's a bit more insurance heading into the final two games of the regular season.

Just 15 seconds into the first period at the Verizon Center, Tuukka Rask - making his 68th appearance between the pipes this season - had to fight off a shot, and scoop the loose puck under his glove.

By the time five minutes had passed, the Capitals would have a 1-0 lead en route to a 3-0 win over the Bruins.

For the first time in six games, the Black and Gold left empty-handed, without even a point added to their playoff hopes.

"I think it's always surprising," said Rask, of the team's timid start. "And obviously when you talk about having a good start."

"But I think we've had some good starts. I think, today, for some reason, we weren't as sharp in the beginning, and sometimes, it's going to cost us and sometimes it isn't - and today, it did."

"Obviously, when you play a game like today, you think that you're ready to push, but it doesn't happen sometimes," added Rask.

The tentative beginning saw the Bruins turning pucks over, especially within their own blueline.

At 4:49 in, Nicklas Backstrom found John Carlson walking in all alone from the right point after the Bruins had gotten turned around in their own zone. Carlson had a chance earlier in the sustained shift as well.

By the 7:06 mark, Washington had set off the sirens again with Matt Niskanane firing a shot from the right point that deflected off defenseman Zach Trotman's stick and in behind Rask.

"We kind of started off on our heels a little bit, kind of not attacking, not really pushing, and it cost us two quick goals," said Rask. "And it was tough to catch up after that."

The Bruins' best chance of the period came towards the end, when Brett Connolly fired a shot trying to go short side high on Braden Holtby. Connolly poked the puck before Holtby could cover, and it sat there in the blue paint before the Caps' netminder could finally deny a second opportunity.

Head Coach Claude Julien had switched up the lines to start the game, and then made a few switches again during the first period after the Caps went up 2-0. Connolly swapped places with David Pastrnak, and played with Milan Lucic and David Krejci for some time.

Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson stayed skating together, while Ryan Spooner centered Chris Kelly and Reilly Smith. Pastrnak joined the fourth line with Carl Soderberg and Gregory Campbell.

Following the game, the Bruins weren't pointing to line mixing and matching as any reason for the lack of puck management, especially at the start.

"You know, right now, it's Game 80 and I think we should know the system. I don't think it should matter who you're out with," said Bergeron. "It's about doing the job, and that's all I can say about that. I don't think that we can start thinking about chemistry and what not - we just have to do the job."

In the second, the Bruins began generating some more opportunities. Holtby had to make three point-blank stops on Lucic, Eriksson and Smith.

At about six minutes into the period, Marchand fed Eriksson cutting through the defense, but Holtby was there to make the save.

Rask followed that up at the other end, making arguably his best save of the night to keep it a two-goal game, when he flashed out his left pad on a fire from Curtis Glencross and then followed that up with a quick save on Carlson.

Smith then had a chance from the left circle on a feed from Spooner off the rush.

At about the midpoint of the second, Connolly hit Lucic with a pass up ice that gave him a clear breakaway in on Holtby, who once again denied the Bruins any chance of life.

With the period winding down, Eriksson had a chance jamming in tight, but Holtby covered amidst traffic.

"I just thought we played on our heels in that first period and we stood back instead of doing a little bit more of what we started to do in the second period," said Julien. "But you dig yourself a hole 2-0 against this team, it’s not easy to come back. We had four golden opportunities in the second period, and when you don’t bury those chances, your chances become real slim."

The Capitals made it 3-0 with 2:13 left in the second period. Evgeny Kuznetsov skated around Rask's net, and caught Torey Krug off guard with a slick pass back to to Marcus Johansson at the goal line for the tap-in.

In the third period, Julien again swapped the lines around, essentially returning them to what they had been prior to this week's practices.

With the third period switches, Krejci skated on the right wing with Marchand and Bergeron, putting Eriksson with Soderberg and Smith. Connolly joined Campbell and Kelly on the fourth line.

Lucic, Spooner and Pastrnak were reunited, with each player generating at least one scoring chance on their first shift back together.

But the Bruins once again still couldn't solve Holtby, who extended his shutout streak to 186:43 against the B's with the Caps' season sweep. Boston was outscored 9-0.

"Look, last five games, we won. So I mean, obviously we were feeling pretty good," said Krejci, of how the team entered the matchup, on a five-game win streak. "We knew last two games we couldn't score a goal against these guys, so we wanted to play the same way as the last few games and you know, we didn't do that, especially in the first 10 minutes."

"But after that, we started playing our hockey, starting creating some chances, but it wasn't enough."

Boston had no power play opportunities, while keeping the Caps' potent man advantage off the board.

"The first period really the downside of our game," said Julien. "The other two, we didn’t do enough to generate on the power play. We have to be able to get on the inside on these guys — they’re big, they’re strong, and at this point, I think I’d have expected a little bit more out of certain players."

The Bruins had a brief scare when captain Zdeno Chara went down to block a Joel Ward shot late in the first period, and had to take a few seconds to get to his knees, before skating gingerly to the bench and shaking it off. He took a few twirls during the ensuing TV time-out, and proceeded to finish out the game.

"I know he played the rest of the game," Julien said, when he was asked postgame if he knew how Chara was feeling.

The Black and Gold now have to quickly regroup. Following an 8:00 p.m. start on Wednesday, and travel from D.C. to Sunrise, Fla., they will face the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in their final back-to-back.

"Right now, we have less than 24 hours to get ready for the next one," said Krejci. "It's going to be the biggest game of the season."

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