Wednesday night's heavyweight hockey game between the Capitals and the Boston Bruins lived up to its billing and then some. The game pitted the Eastern Conference's top two teams, leaders of their respective divisions, and for the second time in as many meetings this season, the Caps and B's delivered a rollickingly entertaining game.
T.J. Oshie scored twice, Braden Holtby continued his career-long mastery of the Bruins, and Washington's penalty killing outfit - with a primary helper from the Caps' crack video coaching crew - delivered a perfect 5-for-5 night to lead it to a 3-2 win over the Bruins.
Video: Oshie scores twice, Capitals edge Bruins
"It was a good game," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "Obviously, we knew going into the game the importance of special teams tonight, and that was the deciding factor. And then some outstanding individual efforts; you can talk about Braden and the job he does against Boston all of the time, and T.J. with some outstanding plays that ended up in goals."
Both teams came in off lopsided losses and subpar performances in their previous outings, and the Caps atoned for a rare clunker in Monday's night's 5-2 loss to Columbus.
Video: Postgame | December 11
"I think it was big," says Oshie of Wednesday's bounce back win. "Obviously not our best performance a couple of nights ago, and they're a great hockey club over there. They're hard to play against. It was nice to see everyone get up for the game."
The Caps had a good start, putting together a couple of good offensive zone shifts that didn't bear any fruit. But it was the Bruins who jumped out to an early lead on a rush goal just ahead of the midpoint of the first period.
Patrice Bergeron won a defensive-zone draw, and a dozen seconds later, the Bruins were up 1-0. Charlie McAvoy carried out of Boston ice and into the Washington end along the left-wing wall. After gaining the zone, he sent perfect cross-ice feed to David Pastrnak, who put a shot off the right post and in from the bottom of the right circle at 9:36.
Boston appeared to have taken a 2-0 lead on a Bergeron power-play marker at 15:35 of the first, but Washington's eagle-eyed video coaches urged a coach's challenge for offside. That duo is rarely wrong, and they weren't this time, either. The goal came off the board, and the Caps were down just one, as they were after the conclusion of the first.
It was the second time in three games that Washington's video coaching staff wiped away an opposition goal in what ended up as a 3-2 Caps win at night's end; they did so last Friday night against the Ducks in Anaheim, too.
Video: BOS@WSH: Oshie nets PPG on second-chance opportunity
Washington failed to cash in on a carryover power play early in the middle period, but the Caps got it tied up minutes later on their second extra-man chance of the night. Evgeny Kuznetsov gained entry to the Boston zone, handing off to Nicklas Backstrom on the right half wall. Boston blueliner Zdeno Chara swatted it away, but right to John Carlson at the point. With three of the four Bruins along the right-wing wall, Oshie was all alone in the slot, and Carlson fed him. Oshie's first shot went off the crossbar, but he was able to swat the rebound home before the B's converged upon him, tying the game at 4:35 of the second.
Minutes later, Oshie struck again, this time with a highlight reel dazzler. In neutral ice, Kuznetsov made a neat pass to Oshie in traffic, and the Washington winger barreled between two Bruins blueliners, drawing a hooking call on McAvoy while turning Connor Clifton inside out. Oshie then went to his backhand and made the penalty call a moot point, lifting a backhander off the bar and in for a 2-1 Caps lead at 8:05.
Video: BOS@WSH: Oshie nets pretty backhand for second goal
"I felt like I had [Jakub Vrana's] wheels," quips Oshie. "I had to check my skates on the bench and make sure there wasn't a '13' under there. I haven't seen it. It felt pretty lucky for the puck to squeak through there. You just try to put it upstairs with a couple of sticks on you. I'm happy it went in."
Early in the third, the Caps executed a penalty kill to preserve their one-goal lead, only to have the Bruins draw even on the next shift after Washington iced the puck. Boston's Sean Kuraly won a left dot draw back to Torey Krug at the left point, and Kuraly then got piece of Krug's shot, deflecting it past Holtby to knot the score at 2-2 at 2:53 of the third.
Less than two minutes later, the Caps regained the lead. Tom Wilson fed Backstrom in neutral ice, and the silky center carried down the left side into Boston territory, pump-faking a shot near the top of the circle and then carrying patiently behind the cage while surveying his options. He skated around back of the Boston net, came out the other side and put the puck on a tee for Carlson, who rocketed a one-timer to the back of the net at 4:42.
Video: BOS@WSH: Carlson one-times feed from Backstrom
"I was just trying to shoot it in the net," says Carlson. "I had enough chances before; I was pretty frustrated. It was nice to at least find the back of the net after that. I don't think I've had that many really good chances in my life, since maybe minor hockey."
Washington had to kill off one more minor penalty when Carlson was boxed for tripping less than two minutes later, but the Caps did so with aplomb, running their streak to 19 straight successful shorthanded missions, including five in Wednesday's win over the Bruins, who lost their fourth straight game (0-3-1).
"Listen, we're all frustrated," says Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "But as a coach, you like how the 60 minutes transpired better than some of the other nights. We're in the game, we're right there, we very easily could have won the game. Two or three things probably changed that, but in terms of a 60-minute effort, I think we're getting closer to where we want to be."
Video: Reirden Postgame | December 11