Both teams entered the game with just five regulation losses on the season, and both were still stinging from a 5-2 loss at the hands of the seventh-place team in their division two nights earlier. It all added up to a titanic tilt, and the game itself lived up to billing.
In the end, the Caps came away with a 3-2 victory. While the stars came out to play for both sides, it was special teams and grunt work that won it for Washington.
"It was a good game from both teams," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "They have a strong team and it was a good challenge. Their top line is exceptional, and we needed to be at our best or close to it. I think it lived up to all it was meant to be."
The Bruins dominated in the face-off circle, winning 34 of the game's 56 draws (61 percent). The Capitals made good use of their time without the puck, delivering 40 hits, their second highest single-game total this season.
"You have to take a notch out of their skill guys when you get a chance," says Reirden. "And you can't let some of their [defensemen] join the play. You've got to get in their way a little bit."
Essentially, Washington's skill players delivered the lamplighters while its role players fulfilled their roles. Five of the Caps' top six forwards found the scoresheet, with only Alex Ovechkin failing to pick up a point. The Caps captain had a rare game in which he did not manage a shot on net and had only a single shot attempt, but he made his presence felt with a team-high six hits.
All of Washington's scoring came from the top six and John Carlson, who netted his fifth game-winner of the season and his third this month. But Washington's bottom six and its second and third defensive pairs were also at their best. The Caps' bottom six forward corps drove possession while combining for 13 hits and four blocked shots. Each of Washington's bottom four blueliners had a strong night in terms of possession at 5-on-5.
Washington spent a full 10 minutes on the penalty kill, and Carl Hagelin (6:13), Jonas Siegenthaler (6:05) and Lars Eller (5:54) were all on the ice for more than half of that time. Nick Jensen (3:39), Dmitry Orlov (3:18) and Nic Dowd (3:04) all logged more than the usual amount of shorthanded ice time as well, helping the Caps go 5-for-5 on the penalty kill. They've now been successful on 19 straight shorthanded missions, dating back to a Nov. 30 game in Detroit.
Reirden said last week that part of his reunited third line's evolution would be putting them out against top lines. Eller and linemates Hagelin and Richard Panik were often - but not exclusively - deployed against Boston's always dangerous top trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. All three of those Boston forwards logged at least 21 minutes, and Marchand finished with 24:10. It takes the work of a couple of lines to attempt to neutralize that trio, and they combined to score the game's first goal early in the first frame.
The Caps continue to find ways to win whatever type of game is being played on most given nights. Yes, special teams were a determining factor in this and several other wins this season. But there were more than special teams at play in overcoming the Bruins on Wednesday. All 18 of Washington's skaters and goaltender Braden Holtby had hands in this victory.
For Boston, the loss was its fourth straight (0-3-1).
"They're going through a little bit of a tough time right now themselves, so they were a desperate team," adds Reirden. "I put a lot of value in that game from us tonight."
And even the guys who scored the goals found other ways to make a difference. Carlson was adept in the defensive zone throughout the night, making stick plays and sealing off the middle of the ice. And although T.J. Oshie scored two goals - one of which was a highlight reel dazzler - Reirden singled him out after the game for a diligent backcheck to deny a scoring chance while Washington was on the power play.
The coach on the other side sees Oshie's value, too. Asked whether Oshie was under-appreciated among Washington players, Boston coach Bruce Cassidy answered thusly:
"I don't think so. I think he is certainly one of the guys - when I look at Washington - [who is] one of their marquee, go-to guys. Their top six is as good as anybody's especially with the development of [Jakub] Vrana now. He might fly [under] Ovechkin in being able to score, but I've always liked T.J. Oshie. Honest, scores goals the right way. He's a good hockey player."
Rebound - Thirty-three games into the 2019-20 season, the Caps have suffered five regulation losses. With their Wednesday night win over the Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena, the Caps have now followed four of those five losses with a win, and the other with a shootout loss. They have yet to go more than one game without collecting a point.
Wednesday's victory helped erase the memory of one of the Caps' few flat performances of the season in a 5-2 loss to Columbus on Monday night.
Twice this season, the Caps have had to face the Bruins in the wake of one of their rare regulation losses, and twice this season they've eked out a 3-2 win over Boston, one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. Back on Nov. 16, the Caps followed a 5-2 home ice loss to Montreal a night earlier with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Bruins in Boston.
"That's twice we've played Boston where we've had to respond, and we have." notes Reirden. "I think they're a very, very good team. So I was happy with our guys. They were into it emotionally and physically tonight. When we do that, we're a good team all the way through.
"I think it was a tougher opponent than when we played them last time with Bergeron in there, and [defenseman Torey] Krug. They're pretty deep all the way through, and they've been successful for a reason."
"I think it's huge actually," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "Our first period against Columbus, that's not the way we wanted to come out, especially at home. So it was nice to bounce back tonight and get ourselves on the right path here."
Second Look - For the second time in the last three game, Washington's crack video review team of Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi had a huge hand in a Caps victory. Each of Washington's last two wins was achieved by a 3-2 score, and each was aided by that eagle-eyed crew combining to take an opposition goal off the board with a successful coach's challenge video review, alleging offside in both instances.
With Boston leading 1-0 late in the first, Bergeron scored on a Bruins power play to double that lead. But it wasn't to be. Urged on by his staff, Reirden issued a challenge, and if it didn't go Washington's way, it would have been a 2-0 game and the Bruins would have gone on another power play.
Given the relative rarity of multi-goal Boston leads over Washington in recent seasons, that might have been the game.
"Honestly, I had no idea until they started talking about it," says Bergeron, whose team has been on the wrong side of several such challenges already this season. "I didn't really get a good look at it, but with all of the angles they have and them in Toronto, I'm sure they got the right call."
The Caps and Reirden certainly appreciate the work of their video coaching staff, which has compiled a remarkable success rate since the advent of the coach's challenge.
"I think that had a huge, huge impact on the game," says Reirden. "Tim Ohashi and Brett Leonhardt, that puts us down 2-0 there, and it kind of gets their power play rolling. They had some chances, we made some saves, but having two talented guys in there and how they go about their business, the responsibilities that they each have in letting us know that that was a challengeable call, to me that's a major deciding factor in tonight's game. We're fortunate to have skilled guys in that area."
By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 24:43 in ice time … Carlson, Eller and Dmitry Orlov had three shots on net each to lead the Caps … Carlson led the way with eight shot attempts … Michal Kempny led Washington with four blocked shots … Dowd won four of five draws (80 percent).