BOSTON | Adam Oates knew what he didn’t want his Washington Capitals to do Saturday afternoon against the Boston Bruins.
“We have some big forwards, we have some guys that can play physical if they want to do that,” he said. “But we don’t want to play that kind of game, we don’t want to get involved in their game.”
Except that’s exactly what happened, complete with the chippiness, pushing, shoving and nastiness that the Bruins thrive on. Add in Boston’s potent offense, and the Caps left TD Garden with a 4-1 loss in which they were outclassed by a stronger opponent.
“It’s their game, it’s not ours. We have to understand that,” Oates said. “That’s part of what they bring, that team over there. You’ve got to beat them on the scoreboard and keep the game close.”
It was the Caps’ fourth loss in five games, each one putting a bigger dent in their fading playoff hopes. They remained seven points out of the last playoff position in the Eastern Conference with 21 games to play.
This was the Bruins’ kind of game: post-whistle scrums that appeared to frustrate the Caps. Two fights in the final 20 seconds of the second period, including the first of Mike Ribeiro’s NHL career, showed again that Boston enjoys the extracurriculars. The Bruins improved to 11-3-1 this season in games that had at least one fight and 41-15-2 over the past two years.
The Caps didn’t back down, but when it came to play between the whistles, they couldn’t keep up with the bigger, faster, skilled Bruins. Washington’s only goal, credited to Marcus Johansson, came when David Krejci shot the puck off Johnny Boychuk and into his own net.
Krejci’s line did plenty of scoring on Michal Neuvirth, too. Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton tormented the Caps all afternoon and not just by jabbing after plays were over.
Icing a blue line featuring rookie Steve Oleksy seeing No. 2 defenseman minutes in his seventh NHL game and Jack Hillen making his return after a two-month absence, the Caps were no match for the Bruins. A turnover by Troy Brouwer led to the first goal, and Lucic abused Hillen to set up the second.
Even after a fluke goal got the Caps on the board and broke up Anton Khudobin’s shutout early in the second, the Bruins didn’t regress. And they certainly didn’t let up, taking advantage of Oleksy to make it 3-1 and then scoring on a power play early in the third to ice it.
Frustration boiled over late in the second and into the third for the Caps. Ribeiro could be seen jawing at a young fan from the penalty box who made a crying face at him. Forward Matt Hendricks exchanged words with a fan while going down the tunnel after his third-period fight with Adam McQuaid.
Bruised and battered by 60 tough minutes in Boston, the Caps have just over a day to regroup before facing the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center.