So, here we are again. A best of three in the first round in which the underdog is showing a bit more fight than perhaps the favorite expected. And if the fave doesn’t start to match the intensity of the ‘dog soon, it will quickly join the list of teams unable to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.
Last night in D.C., the Bruins had a chance to grab the series by the balls and have a potential clinch tomorrow afternoon at the Garden. Instead, they got stuffed by the Caps, 2-1, and now find themselves in a battle to get out of the first round. And if they continue to dilly-dally, they may well be setting tee times by the time Don Draper has his first whiskey Sunday night.
Despite flinging 44 shots Braden Holtby’s way, Rich Peverley’s first period tally through a gaping 5-hole would be the Bs’ lone score of the night. All due respect to Holtby’s solid effort, but the Bruins aren’t exactly making him stand on his head. He’s taken more belly-warmers than Amber Waves. Several Bruins look like they just graduated from the P.J. Axelsson School of Corner Picking. And he hasn’t really had to make any jump-outta-your-coach saves. But you know what? None of that shit matters because his team is playing the better hockey right now and has plenty of reasons to be confident heading into tomorrow’s huge Game 5.
The Capitals’ Marcus Johansson gave his team a 1-0 lead just 1:22 into the game when he beat Thomas after a feed from Brooks Laich. But just before that, NHL refs blew yet another obvious call right in the neutral zone. After Andrew Ference’s unsuccessful pinch at the right point, he turned to hustle back on D and was legit (le-what?) tackled by Alexander Ovechkin and completely removed from the play. Not so incredibly (remember, we’re apparently operating under an NBA-like “star system” these playoffs), Ovie wasn’t whistled for the infraction and the Caps had the lead before some cracked their first beer.
About 12 minutes later, Peverley’s nice end-to-end rush knotted things up heading into the second. With 1:17 left in the second, Alexander Semin put the Caps up for good with a power play goal thanks to a super-chintzy hooking call on Patty Bergeron. In five seasons of covering the Bs for the Stool, long-time readers know that I’ve made a conscious effort to not pin losses on the refs and that’s not what I’m doing here (Game Six in Montreal last year is a major exception). But in a game like last night, their piss-poor job has to be acknowledged because it had a huge effect on the outcome (this shitty reffing is hardly limited to this series); a missed interference led directly to the Caps first goal and a woeful call on Bergeron gift-wrapped their second.
Despite all that, the Bruins still had 20 minutes (including a power play) in which to knot things up yet couldn’t get one of their 13 third period shots past the Caps’ young netminder. So now they find themselves in the familiar if not exactly comfortable situation of having to dig deeper than the other team to move onto the second round. They were somehow able to beat the Habs in the first round last year despite not scoring even one power play goal, the first time in NHL history that has happened. If the Bs are planning on repeating their own head-scratching history of a year ago, they’re playing with a general alarm fire.
Tomorrow at the Garden starting at 3:08, we’ll see if the Bs can fix their ailing power play, match their hungrier opposition’s desire, and give themselves the first opportunity at eliminating the opponent instead of giving D.C. the option. If they don’t, it just may end up being a quicker reign than anticipated.