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Bruins shut down Capitals 3-1

by Dan Rosen
WASHINGTON -- The Boston Bruins may not want to open the doors to TD Garden on Thursday for their first home game of the season. They kind of like being road warriors.

Boston grabbed an early lead Tuesday night and never looked back en route to a 3-1 victory over Washington in front of an energetic Verizon Center crowd. Matt Hunwick, Milan Lucic and David Krejci scored for the Bruins while Tim Thomas put together another stellar performance (35 saves).

Behind Thomas, the Bruins have won three straight, going to Prague, Newark and D.C. to get it done. They have no choice but to open their home slate Thursday against these same Capitals, who had to play Tuesday without Mike Green, Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon and then watched goalie Michal Neuvirth leave in the first period with what they are calling the flu.

"We've been on the road enough, but we're not going to complain," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "The more road games we play right now, the less we have to play at the end."

After finishing dead last in offense last season (2.39 goals per game), the Bruins have found the perfect balance early this season. They've scored 10 goals and allowed only two during their current winning streak. The top line of Lucic, Krejci and Nathan Horton have a combined 17 points, and each player as at least one point in all four games Boston has played.

Lucic turned in a Gordie Howe hat trick Tuesday with an assist on Krejci's goal 9:12 into the first period, his own tally off a rebound just 2:45 later in the first period and a fight with Caps defenseman John Erskine 9:23 into the third period. Krejci also had a goal and the secondary assist on Lucic's goal. Horton set up Krejci's goal on a 2-on-1 rush.

"We have built pretty good chemistry in the past month and we bring it to the game," Krejci said. "We're on the bench talking, always in the game having fun. That's why we're that good so far."

Julien said he's also been stressing that the defensemen should join the rush more, create a four-man attack because that will create more offensive chances.

Johnny Boychuk did just that midway through the first period and it resulted in Lucic's goal.

Krejci found Boychuk cutting into the zone with a diagonal pass to the right point, but instead of firing a slap shot the defenseman faked a shot to pull Alex Ovechkin out of position, opening a wide open lane into the circle. Boychuk said he was looking for Horton on a backdoor when his shot/pass hit off Neuvirth's right pad and bounced out to Lucic in the slot.

Lucic swiped at the puck with his backhand and found the back of the net. Soon after Neuvirth left complaining of dizziness and a headache, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. He never returned and Semyon Varlamov, making his first appearance of the season, stopped 13 of 14 shots in relief.

He was beat by Matt Hunwick's point shot through traffic 2:08 into the third period.

"This League is a lot about a four-man attack right now, but you've got to pick your spots," Julien said. "It's got to be the right time, and our guys are getting better at that. It was a great pass by David to find him and a great choice by Boychuk to jump in at the right time."

About the only blemish on the Bruins' night was their 0-for-4 on the power play, but a perfect penalty kill has become par for the course for the Caps early this season. Just like the Bruins have found their offense after it remained dormant most of last season, the Capitals' PK has been stellar (25-for-25) through six games after finishing 25th in the NHL last season.

Oddly enough, the Capitals' problem Tuesday night, and it's shocking considering their firepower, was in the offensive end. Their power play was also 0-for-4 and the Bruins held down Ovechkin, who finished a minus-2 with five shots and 13 attempts at the net over 23:36 of ice time.

Washington had 36 shots on goal, but half of them came in the third period when they were trying to force their offense.

"For the most part, I know you're protecting a 3-1 lead and the other team is going to throw everything at you so they kind of dominated in the shot column in the third period," Julien said, "but we had some kills to do and I thought our penalty killing crew did a great job against a pretty potent power play."

Boudreau wasn't happy that the Bruins' top line of Krejci, Lucic and Horton outplayed his top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble.

"I thought (Ovechkin's) effort was there," Boudreau said, "I just didn't think things were going well for that whole line. Give them credit -- when they get a lead they've always been one of the toughest teams in the League to beat."

Very little has gone wrong for the Bruins since their season-opening 5-2 loss to Phoenix in Prague, and that's due in large part to the way Thomas is playing.

He was beat only by a beautiful one-timer from the slot 7:42 into the second period from rookie center Marcus Johansson. It was Johansson's first NHL goal.

"I had to battle through some screens and there were some funny little tips that you have to stay on your toes for, but we did a good job of not giving them breakaways or outman rushes or chances alone in the slot, things like that," Thomas said. "My main battle was seeing through the screens and making sure tips didn't beat me and I didn't give up bad enough rebounds to get scored on."

Tuukka Rask will have get into the nets sometime soon to find his rhythm, but with Thomas stopping 95 of the 97 shots he's faced in the last three games, how does Julien plant him on the bench Thursday when the Capitals visit TD Garden?

"I mean, what more can you say, he's played well," Julien said. "He played well again tonight, solid in nets for us. So, we have some decisions to make before next game."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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