Four times this season the Boston Bruins have pieced together a modest three-game winning streak. Twice, they've come to Verizon Center for a Rivalry Night game against the Capitals with a three-game winning run in the works.
The next time the Bruins push one of those streaks to four straight wins will be the first time.
The Caps doused the Bruins 5-3 on Wednesday, ending Boston's short winning spell and also ensuring that Washington would not suffer successive regulation losses.
Video: Backstrom's three-point night propels Caps past B's
"All in all, a pretty good game for us," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen, who helped the cause with a pair of primary assists. "We generated enough chances and capitalized on a few that we got. A pretty good game overall against a team that is desperate."
In both of Boston's visits to the District this season, the Caps have opened up a multi-goal lead only to see the Bruins rally back to pull even. On Dec. 7, the Caps carried a 3-0 lead into the third, but a furious Boston rally forced overtime. Boston nemesis Nicklas Backstrom won that one for the Caps, netting the game-winner in overtime, and Backstrom would figure prominently in the building of the multi-goal lead this time around.
Washington broke the seal on the scoresheet in Wednesday's game, doing so for the 36th time in 51 contests this season. Boston's Brad Marchand turned the puck over high in the Capitals' zone, putting it right on Backstrom's blade. With a sublime stretch feed, Backstrom quickly sprung linemate T.J. Oshie on a breakaway, and Oshie had enough time and space - practically an entire zone's worth - to look over his shoulder and cruise in alone on Boston goalie Tuukka Rask. Oshie's shot from the slot beat Rask for a 1-0 Caps lead at 3:06 of the first period.
Video: Caps on Wednesday night's 5-3 victory over Boston
"I don't know if it's cocky, but I knew Nick was going to be able to get that puck through those two guys to me," recounts Oshie. "After that, I kind of glanced back a little bit and saw I had some time, so I slowed down just a little and tried to turn it into almost a shootout pace. I just found the five-hole."
Later in the frame, the Caps doubled their advantage on a lengthy offensive zone shift. After Washington worked the puck around the Boston end and forced the Bruins to chase, Matt Niskanen wound up for a drive from the top of the left circle. Rask made a pad save, kicking the rebound straight to the slot where Backstrom quickly bagged the rebound with authority for a 2-0 Washington lead at the 13:34 mark.
The Caps were a couple minutes away from getting out of the first frame with a two-goal lead, but it wasn't to be. Ex-Bruin Brett Connolly took an unwise interference minor in the offensive zone when he laid out Riley Nash, and the B's cut the Caps' lead on the ensuing man advantage. Marchand, atoning for his earlier miscue, ripped a shot past longtime Boston nemesis Braden Holtby to make it a 2-1 game with 1:14 remaining in the first.
Early in the second period, Evgeny Kuznetsov upended B's center David Krecji in the offensive zone, giving the Bruins their second power play in short succession. Boston's extra-man unit came through once again, executing a tic-tac-toe passing sequence that left Marchand with an easy tap-in from the top of the paint. Marchand's second power-play goal in a span of just 183 seconds of playing time evened the game at 2-2 at the 2:49 mark of the second.
Washington had some looks at the Boston net in the second, but as was the case on Tuesday night in Brooklyn against the Islanders, the Caps missed the mark altogether on some of the best of those looks. Seven Washington shot tries missed the mark in the second, and the Caps went 10 minutes and 48 seconds without a shot on net at one point of the frame.
Late in the second, B's blueliner Brandon Carlo was deemed guilty of holding Marcus Johansson, putting the Caps on the power play. With less than 20 seconds left in the frame, Niskanen and Alex Ovechkin played a little catch on the power play, right up until the latter snapped a shot thru traffic and Rask to put the Caps back on top at 3-2.
Video: BOS@WSH: Ovechkin zips a wrist shot past Rask for PPG
Washington missed an opportunity to pad that lead early in the third when Carlo hi-sticked Johansson, but seven seconds after Carlo's return the Caps made it a 4-2 game. Kuznetsov entered the Boston zone with speed and the puck, feeding Dmitry Orlov in the slot. Rather than fire himself, Orlov dished to an oncoming Brett Connolly. Ex-Bruin Connolly burned his old team, patiently pulling Rask out of position before depositing a backhander into a mostly vacant cage.
Connolly's goal would prove to be the game-winner; it restored Washington's two-goal lead at 4-2 at the 3:29 mark of the third.
Washington maintained that lead by killing off a Niskanen minor, then added to the lead on a strong offensive zone shift. Johansson made a good play in the right wing corner, keeping the puck alive in the offensive zone despite losing his footing. Tom Wilson was able to win it along the wall, and he put it right on Kuznetsov's tape in the slot. Kuznetsov ripped a wrister past Rask on the short side to make it 5-2 with 4:07 remaining.
Boston's David Krecji scored to make it a 5-3 game with 1:31 left, doing so after Holtby had already denied Marchand and David Pastrnak, respectively, in short succession from in tight.
With the win, the Caps are now 18-0-0 when Backstrom registers a point against the Bruins, and Holtby is 11-2-0 against the B's. Conversely, Rask is now 1-9-5 lifetime against Washington.
Video: Coach Trotz on Wednesday's 5-3 victory over Boston
"The Backstrom line set the tone right off the bat there," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "They were dynamite. And everybody followed after that. The first period, we really controlled the pace, we controlled the puck, I didn't think we gave up anything. Defensively, we were real strong and all the offense came from some good defense.
"Our power play came through real big at the end of the second period, and in the third period we kicked it up again."
Boston, although still in a playoff spot, is in a somewhat precarious position because it has played the most games in the lead (54), so its pursuers hold multiple games in hand on the Bruins.
"Our puck management was great tonight, when you look at some of the goals they scored and how we managed that," says Bruins coach Claude Julien. "We weren't heavy enough to win this game tonight. We didn't have enough players going, so that kind of hurt us tonight."