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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 2, Bruins 1 (SO)

Caps and B's combine for few goals but plenty of entertainment in Chara's return to Boston, Caps' hot spell continues, Schultz and Laviolette hit milestones, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Tight Like This - Typically, a 2-1 hockey game that's decided in a shootout and in which the two teams combine for a grand total of 20 shots on net through the first 40 minutes doesn't meet the standard for compelling entertainment. But when those two teams are Washington and Boston, and with the intriguing sidebar of a former local hero's return to Beantown factored in, Wednesday night's Caps-Bruins game was a more than captivating contest.

No goals were scored in the first 40 minutes of Wednesday's game, and the two teams had combined for more than twice as many hits (46) as shots on net (20) at that point. But the compete level and the desperation were palpable as the two East Division heavyweights hooked up in Beantown for the first time this season, just over a month after the two teams combined for a pair of scintillating games of an entirely different ilk in the District.

Wednesday night's game was riveting for its intensity, its physicality and its battle and compete levels on both sides.

"Compared to last time we played them, we have a little bit different look of a team," says Caps defenseman Nick Jensen. "We have everyone healthy and everything, but we knew coming into this building it was going to be a hard game and a physical game. They came into our building and they gave us some good games, and that was going to be our focus, to come into their house and make sure we match their intensity or exceed it.

"I think it was a well fought game on both sides. It went back and forth. They did a really good job in the second period of pinning us in our own zone and getting us on our heels. And then early in the third there they got us with one [goal], but we were playing some good defense and we responded right away. These are the kind of games where you look for responses like that, because games aren't going to come easy in this league, especially in our division."

Video: Capitals push past Bruins in shootout, 2-1

Washington limited the Bruins to just nine shots on net in the game's first 40 minutes and 18 for the 65 minutes of hockey played on Wednesday night. As they did in both games in New Jersey over the weekend at the outset of their current road trip, the Caps put together long stretches in which they kept the B's at bay in Washington ice.

Most notably, Boston was held without a shot on net for the first 15-plus minutes of the first, though David Pastrnak did hit the right goalpost on a breakaway bid during that span. The B's had two shots on net in the final four and a half minutes of the first: a 46-footer from Jake DeBrusk and a 60-footer from Brandon Carlo.

"We stayed in the game," says Boston coach Bruce Cassidy. "At home, you want to push the pace and the tempo - there's no doubt about that - so I'm not going to sit here and say that we're satisfied. But they've got a good team over there. We've got some young [defensemen] who have to understand what it's like to play against big guys, explosive guys. I thought situationally we handled that well and then we came out and found our legs in the second and in the third got the lead. We just made a bad play, a turnover that cost us. We made a few of them and that one eventually bit us.

"The positive is that you're up a goal in the third period in your building. The negative is that we still didn't generate enough throughout the lineup, so we'll keep working on that."

In Your Honor - Wednesday's game also marked the return of longtime Boston captain Zdeno Chara to Boston, the first time he has played in Beantown since he signed a one-year deal to come to Washington in late December.

The Bruins paid tribute to Chara with a video during the first television timeout of the first period. In a building bereft of fans, the B's wisely included several fans in the team's tribute video for their longtime captain and leader, and he seemed to be moved by the experience.

"I felt a little bad for him that there wasn't 18,000-plus fans here giving him the ovation he deserved, to be honest with you," says Boston coach Bruce Cassidy. "That would have been a real nice thing for him, but obviously that's not able to be done right now with the circumstances, so too bad for him."

The tribute was nice, and it was stirring. But from Chara and the Caps' standpoint, the win made it even more special.

"One thing I've learned about [Chara] is he is a humble guy and he is very appreciative of things like this," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "And then he also realizes professionalism, and how quickly he moves past it. He gets himself into the game and involved in the game.

Video: Postgame | Peter Laviolette

"And guys played hard tonight; it was an important game for us, coming back to Boston for Z. Important for our team - just where we sit - but important for that reason as well. And the guys I think knew that, but I'm really happy for him that we were able to come in and help him out and get a win in his first game back in Boston."

Four Strong Wins - Wednesday's win gives Washington its longest winning streak in over a year, since it won four straight games sandwiched around the All-Star break last year from Jan. 13-27, 2020. The Caps have outscored the opposition by a combined 14-7 in the last four games and they've yielded just 92 shots on net in the process.

Over a bit of a longer haul, the Capitals are 7-1-1 in their last nine games. Since they went a week without playing any games because of a series of COVID-related postponements, the Caps are 7-2-1, but many of their underlying vital signs are vastly improved over the dozen games that preceded the current stretch.

Since Feb. 14, the Caps are tied for second in the NHL with a .750 points percentage. They are averaging exactly three goals per game, tied for 10th in the league over that stretch, and they've yielded 2.5 goals per game, seventh best. Washington's average of 26.7 shots on goal allowed per game in the last 10 is second in the league, and the Caps' 50.7 percent face-off success rate is 12th best, a significant uptick from the team's 46.7 percent mark in its first dozen games, a figure that ranked 27th in the NHL over that span.

The 500 Club - Caps defenseman Justin Schultz played in his 500th career NHL game on Wednesday. Schultz played his first NHL game as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, back on Jan. 20, 2013 at Vancouver, skating 20:52. Two nights later at Edmonton's Rexall Place, Schulz scored his first NHL goal in the Oilers' home opener of that lockout-abbreviated 2012-13 season, netting a power-play goal against San Jose's Antti Niemi.

Schultz skated in 248 games for Edmonton and 234 for Pittsburgh, where he was part of Stanley Cup championship teams in 2016 and 2017. His 18 games with the Capitals put him at 500 games, during which he has piled up 52 goals and 171 assists for 223 points.

Video: Postgame | Brenden Dillon

Put Some Miles On - Laviolette earned the 650th win of his NHL coaching career on Wednesday, hitting the milestone in his home state of Massachusetts. Asked about it afterwards, the Caps coach was humble and gracious.

"Somebody just told me that on the way in here," said Laviolette after Wednesday's win. "You know what, I can't believe I'm still coaching in the NHL. I started a long time ago and I'm still here. I'm loving it every day and I'm thankful for the opportunities that I've had. I feel fortunate to be part of this group right here, but that wasn't really the story tonight, as it shouldn't be.

"The story was about our team playing Boston - with the top winning percentage in the conference - and [Chara] coming back to Boston and our guys battling and doing the right things to win hockey games. That was what was really important."

Laviolette is the 15th coach in NHL history to record as many as 650 victories; he recently passed ex-Caps bench boss Ron Wilson (648) to move into 15th place on the all-time wins list. Of the 14 coaches ahead of him on the list, seven were or are active in the league this season, including Claude Julien, who was recently relieved of his coaching duties in Montreal.

Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears were on the road in Allentown on Wednesday night, facing the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Bears came out on the short end of a 4-3 decision.

Trailing 1-0 heading into the second, Hershey tied the game just 52 seconds into the middle period on Martin Fehervary's shorthanded goal, his first of the season. Riley Sutter supplied the solo assist.

After the Phantoms regained the lead minutes later, Sutter again supplied the solo assist on a tying tally, this time from Shane Gersich at 9:21 of the second. Gersich's first of the season made it a 2-2 game.

Minutes later, the Bears forged ahead on another shorthanded strike, this one from Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, his second of the season at 12:16. Brett Leason had the only helper on the go-ahead goal.

The Bears carried that lead into the back half of the final frame, but the Phantoms prevailed on a pair of goals 99 seconds apart in the second half of the stanza.

Pheonix Copley (1-1-1-0) made 15 saves in a losing effort against Lehigh Valley. Hershey is idle until Saturday afternoon when the two teams hook up again at Giant Center for a rematch.

By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Capitals with 27:01 in ice time … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net and a whopping 16 shot attempts; nine of them missed the mark and two were blocked … Ovechkin led Washington with six hits … Jensen blocked three shots to lead the Caps and collected his third assist in the last four games … Nic Dowd won nine of a dozen draws (75 percent).

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