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Bruins look to build more balanced rivalry against Capitals

Have lost 17 of past 19 games vs. Washington, will play seven more times within East Division this season

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

For the Boston Bruins, their game against the Washington Capitals on Monday could be cause for dread coming off a 4-3 overtime loss to the Capitals on Saturday, another chapter in a matchup where they have been bedeviled over and over. 

The Bruins have lost 17 of their past 19 regular-season games (2-12-5) against the Capitals dating to Oct. 11, 2014. But with seven more to play against Washington this season and coming off a better showing in that overtime loss, there's a chance for Boston to change the narrative in this budding rivalry.

"The more you play a team, the more you're going to battle and if something happens at some point, then that even amps it up even more," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said Saturday.

Boston and Washington, each in the MassMutual East Division, play again Monday at Capital One Arena (7 p.m. ET; SN1, SNE, SNO, TVAS, NBCSWA, NESN, NHL.TV).

"This is definitely the way that you create rivalries and I think obviously the other way is in playoffs, and the more you play teams in the playoffs, the bigger the rivalry is," Marchand said. "And that's almost what we have here. We play them a lot this year and we're going to be competing and they'll be one of the better teams. It's going to be fun."

Video: BOS@WSH: McAvoy, Marchand team up to trim deficit

With the Bruins and Capitals near the top of the NHL standings the past several seasons, there was always potential for an intense rivalry. But it never quite happened because the results were so one-sided they played in different divisions and haven't faced off in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2012, when the Capitals defeated the Bruins in seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

The NHL realigned its divisions this season due to travel concerns surrounding the coronavirus, so the Bruins won't play traditional Atlantic Division rivals like the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs -- the first full regular season in their history that is the case -- because each is playing in the Scotia North Division. The Tampa Bay Lightning are now in the Discover Central Division.

That leaves a void for the Bruins that the Capitals could fill. Add in that Zdeno Chara, Boston's captain for the past 14 seasons, signed a one-year contract with Washington on Dec. 30, and Bruins forward David Pastrnak tied Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead with 48 goals last season, and there are several juicy sublots for this rivalry in the making.

"I think the rivalry is definitely there with them being such a talented team, a difficult team to play against," Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen said. "So it always kind of elevates our game when we play these guys. We know they're good and we know they have the ability to score and they're hard to play against."

These games against each other take on more significance now with Boston and Washington battling for spots in the playoffs, where the top four teams from each division will qualify.

"We match up well with them," Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. "They're obviously a great team and so are we."

Video: BOS@WSH: Ovechkin wires puck home for overtime win

The Bruins must have breathed a sigh of relief when goalie Braden Holtby signed a two-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 9. Holtby was 18-4-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .939 save percentage for the Capitals against the Bruins.

With Holtby playing for the Canucks and the Bruins lineup strengthened with the return of defenseman Kevan Miller and the additions of defenseman Jeremy Lauzon and forwards Nick Ritchie and Trent Frederic as regulars, there is hope that Boston can match up better against Washington.

"I thought we handled ourselves well in that building," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game Saturday. "We haven't had a lot of success recently, whether that's the physical part of it or us just not executing. It could be a number of different reasons, but at the end of the day they are a big team. They haven't changed a lot in the last few years."

After falling behind 3-0, the Bruins rallied with a goal from Ritchie at 17:32 of the second period, and two in the third, capped by McAvoy's goal with 58 seconds remaining to tie the game and force overtime, where Ovechkin won it 28 seconds in.

And they get to do it all again Monday, which is something the Bruins might be looking forward to, a bit of a change from years past.

As Cassidy quipped Sunday, "I don't think we've talked a lot about the past. It's not worth it for us. It hasn't gone well, so to bring it up's probably a negative."

But Cassidy said he sees differences of late, more competitive games, less of a one-sided matchup and the Bruins trending in the right direction against the Capitals.

"Certainly, we've slowly started to turn the corner against them," Cassidy said. "I think [Saturday] night's game I'd take seven more of those, to be honest with you."

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