For most of the last few weeks the Capitals have been falling behind in games and chasing the lead. On Saturday night in Boston, they faced a Bruins team that had trailed for less than a minute - total - in its previous five home games. But for the second game in a row, the Caps got on the board first and never trailed. At night's end, they found themselves on the right side of a 3-2 score, and they had their first pair of consecutive victories since the first two games of the season.
"It's sort of refreshing," says caps coach Barry Trotz. "Mentally, it's not as draining as trying to chase the game the whole time, so I liked our start, I liked actually the first 30 minutes. We were really good for the first 30 minutes.
"I think [the Bruins] didn't have very much zone time, and then we started mismanaging the puck a little bit in the neutral zone, they countered, and we spent probably the last 10 minutes [of the second period] in our zone, and then, obviously I thought we had a really good start in the third."
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | November 4
Tom Wilson enjoyed the first two-goal game of the regular season portion of his NHL career, and Braden Holtby was solid in goal in helping the Caps to finally string together a pair of wins. Wilson's second goal turned out to be the game-winner, his second in the regular season and first since March 28, 2016 when he netted the game-winner in a 4-1 win over Columbus.
The Lars Eller trio - coming soon to a cool jazz bar near you - stayed hot, getting the Caps off on the good foot just after the game's first television timeout. The Caps lost a draw in the Boston zone, but regained possession down low. Eller managed a backhand shot from just above the lower portion of the left circle, and the rebound came to the right-shooting Wilson, who was straddling the goal line on the left side of the cage. From a difficult angle, Wilson sailed a high shot into the cage for his first goal of the season at 7:01 of the first, staking the Caps to a 1-0 lead.
"Lars is so strong on the puck," says Wilson. "I was just kind of staying off the pile, and it came to me, and I snuck it by [Rask] before he could get over. It's just about staying the course and the linemates are working hard, the pucks are kind of bouncing our way when you generate that momentum, and you keep putting pucks to the net and stuff, it's going to come."
Later in the frame, the Caps doubled their advantage. Seconds after Alex Ovechkin was denied on a breakaway by Boston netminder Tuukka Rask, the Caps' line of Ovechkin, Evgney Kuznetsov and Devante Smith-Pelly did some good work below the goal line to gain possession of the puck, finally working it from low to high as Kuznetsov curled out of the right wing corner and went cross-point to Dmitry Orlov at the left point. Orlov went right back to Kuznetsov at the right half wall, then Kuznetsov fed a locked and loaded Ovechkin, who was in the left circle. From there, Ovechkin unleashed his patented one-timer, and it beat Rask on the short side at 13:06 of the first frame.
Video: Caps 365 | November 4
Ovechkin's goal - combined with some sharp netminding from Holtby - enabled the Caps to take a two-goal lead to the room after 20 minutes of play for the first time since Oct. 9 at Tampa, which was also the last time the Caps put a crooked number on the scoreboard in the first period.
Early in the second, the Bruins carved into the Caps' lead. A couple of quick, sharp passes from Torey Krug and Patrice Bergeron enabled the Bruins to go from their own line to the top of the paint in front of Holtby in a matter of seconds. From there, the ever dangerous David Pastrnak slipped a shot past Holtby to make it a 2-1 game at 3:37 of the middle period.
Four of Holtby's 13 stops in the second period came on shots from inside of 25 feet away. Late in the frame, the Caps had a power play opportunity, and they put together one of their better two-minute man advantages of late. The Caps got several good looks, moved the puck around quickly and efficiently, and they were excellent on retrievals. They did everything but score, and seemed as though they'd have to be content with taking a one-goal cushion into the third period.
But the Eller trio struck the right chord again just before intermission. Eller won a defensive zone draw, and soon afterwards, Chandler Stephenson got behind the Bruins defense and nearly was able to tuck one in on the short side, but he ran out of room. Pastrnak collected the puck and tried to get it out via a hard-around, but Brooks Orpik was at the left point to keep it in. From there, Orpik teed up a drive on which Wilson made a nifty backhand deflection from the inside of the left circle. The tip beat Rask high, restoring Washington's two-goal lead with just 70 seconds left in the period.
That two-goal lead loomed larger when Orpik got a stick up high on Pastrnak in the first minute of the third, giving the Bruins a four-minute power play, their first man advantage opportunity of the night. But the Caps' shorthanded outfit was at its best. Not only did Washington's penalty killers generate some excellent scoring chances of their own, their good work led to the Bruins using their timeout with 85 seconds left on the power play, gambit that didn't work and may have helped the Caps later on.
Video: Wilson, Holtby power Capitals past Bruins, 3-2
Washington also expertly killed off an Orlov tripping minor in the middle of the final frame, and the Caps nursed that two-goal lead into the latter stages of regulation. But with 3:39 remaining, Wilson was whistled for tripping. This time, the B's broke through to pull within a goal.
From down low on the left side, Pastrnak squeezed off a shot that appeared to squeeze between Holtby and the left post, making it a one-goal game with 2:32 remaining.
The Bruins managed three shots on net with the extra attacker, but they came from distance and Holtby was able to see and stop them all. Eller and Orpik chipped in with a couple of late shot blocks, giving the Caps their two points and their first set of consecutive victories in four weeks.
"We had a bad start and we can't have that," says Boston center Patrice Bergeron, "especially against a team like Washington with a lot of skills, and they made us pay in the first period and it's tough to play catch-up hockey."
The Caps certainly know enough about that.