The problem on Thursday night was that in their eyes, a loss was avoidable, and when all was said and done, the Bruins felt like they simply did themselves in.
“They have a lot of offense on that team — very skilled — and they do capitalize on opportunities if you give them space and room, especially on the [power play],” said forward Brad Marchand following a 4-1 loss to the Capitals at the Verizon Center. “We have to be smarter than that and not take a penalty when we’re already down, especially with that team.”
The Bruins got a strong start on Thursday, but a lack of discipline in a disappointing second period that featured a 5-on-3 penalty kill cost them and ultimately led to their first road loss this season.
“They’re for sure going to get the opportunities,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask. “They had that 5-on-3, so that was kind of really momentum changer for them. They get the 3-1 lead with that.
“It’s a good offensive team, real balanced team, so you have to play them stingy, and we definitely didn’t.”
Coming into this game, the Bruins had failed to score on Capitals goalie Braden Holtby for a grand total of 186 minutes. They knew they had to change that dialogue early on in this game, and 13 minutes in, they did just that.
With eight seconds remaining in a power play drawn by Torey Krug, Brett Connolly held the puck just inside the left circle before throwing it to the front of the net, where it deflected off Jimmy Hayes and past Holtby to give Boston a 1-0 lead.
The Bruins seized the momentum early on. They dictated the pace for the first 10 minutes of the game. Then, they seemed to let their collective foot off the gas pedal.
“[We’ve] just got to maintain that killer instinct,” Marchand said. “I think we can’t get complacent, which is kind of what happened tonight a little bit after we scored a goal. We have to be hungrier than the other team to get that next one. It’s a big goal, being up 2-0 [rather] than tied 1-1, so we just have to have a little better mindset on that.”
The Caps came back strong in the latter part of the frame, and they were rewarded for it. With 2 1/2 minutes left in the period, after the Bruins failed to clear the puck from their zone at the end of a lengthy shift, Evgeny Kuznetskov wristed the puck in on Rask. Rask made the initial stop, but Alex Ovechkin pounced on the rebound, and as he fell to the ice, he chipped it in to tie the game at 1.
“I think we did have control of the first half of the period,” Marchand said, “and after we scored that goal, they kind of took over, and we can’t really let that happen.”
The second period proved problematic for the Bruins. At the start, they came out hard like they did in the first. They generated some good chances. But about four minutes into the frame, after a Dmitry Orlov bid from the point deflected off Brooks Laich and trickled past Rask, the wheels seemed to come off.
Boston entered this game with the league’s most lackluster penalty kill. They made their jobs harder when — already down a man, given a neutral zone stick penalty committed by Hayes — Marchand went to the box for roughing T.J. Oshie after the whistle.
The Capitals were quick to capitalize on the 5-on-3. A John Carlson one-timer from the point beat Rask and extended their lead to 3-1, just three minutes after Laich’s tally.
Karl Alzner capped off the scoring with an empty-netter in the waning minutes of regulation.
“I guess that kind of took the momentum out of us and gave them the chance there, with that 5-on-3,” Rask said. “But it’s one of those things that [happens] in the game. You try to control your emotions, and sometimes, we just can’t. That’s just hockey.”
Holtby has been good against the Bruins throughout his career, and he was good again on Thursday. But after the game, the Bruins felt that they dictated their own fate because didn’t make his job difficult enough.
“He’s a good goalie,” Marchand said. “I think they have a really good team over there, too. I think we just have to get a few more bodies in front. He’s the same as every other goalie in this league, so we just have to find a way to beat him and get bodies in front.”
That, and they need to find a way, as Hayes said, “to stay out of the box.” The Bruins were undisciplined in what proved to be a critical second period, and it cost them a game they desperately needed coming off a difficult home loss to Dallas.
“You’ve got to be smarter than that,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “I thought the second period penalties were real bad penalties on our part.”
Boston knew this road test would be particularly difficult. The Capitals and the Canadiens are two of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams for a reason.
But as the Bruins set off for Montreal, they need to leave this tough loss behind and ensure that it doesn’t provoke another one.
“It’s one game,” Marchand said. “It’s not the end of the world. It’s unfortunate that we lost, but you’re not going to win 82 games this year, and we just have to make sure we’re better the next game.”