The Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins have a history: a seven-game playoff series last spring. Memorable, defenseman Karl Alzner said, because “no one really expected” the Caps to pull off the upset.
Every game was decided by one goal, a first in NHL history.
“It was a good, intense series: a very good defensive battle,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “The atmosphere in both buildings was outstanding, so it was a lot of fun, but it’s in the past.”
In the present, the Caps (8-11-1, 17 points, 14th in Eastern Conference) are again the underdogs going into Tuesday’s game at Verizon Center against the Bruins (14-3-2, 30 points, fourth in East). Despite Washington’s 3-1 regular-season record against Boston last season and the playoff victory, that was a long time ago.
Now the Caps are in need of a victory against a top team to build some confidence.
“We played Pittsburgh, didn’t do well. Played New York, didn’t win. Philly the other day. We haven’t really passed the test,” Alzner said. “It’s good because Boston’s a team that we have had some success against in the past. But things are different this year and we just hope that we are on an upswing and we can hang with them. It’d be not good for the confidence if you get blown out by them. We feel good right now, so that’s positive.”
Going 6-3 in the past nine, all Holtby starts, is a positive start for the Caps. The Bruins are 6-1 in their past seven, losing only Sunday night’s game against the arch-rival Montreal Canadiens.
Coach Adam Oates, who wasn’t here for the playoff series, expects “some carryover,” but went in search of more positives.
“It’s also their fourth game in six nights, they had a physical game [Sunday] night,” Oates said. “Last year, they had a long year. They lost to the Caps. The season started. They’re back playing their hockey.”
It was a long time ago, but Caps players believe they learned something from facing and beating the Bruins. Captain Alex Ovechkin called it a “very good series for us.”
“Those were our best games where we played perfectly, pretty much,” Alzner said. “We did all the right things, we were sacrificing, guys were hurting after the game. That’s when you know you’ve done your job; when you’re gassed and you’ve got ice bags all over you and you can say it was an honest effort. Those are the games that everybody really enjoys going home after, regardless of if it was a win or a loss.”
Something about the playoffs and the Bruins last year seemed to bring out the best in the Caps. Some of it, center Nicklas Backstrom said, had to do with Holtby.
“I think we play more as a team against them,” Backstrom said. “In the first round we battled together and we had a really good goaltender.”
This isn’t exactly a heated rivalry, and the Bruins, not far removed from winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, have bigger problems this season than revenge for a first-round loss.
But for the Caps, Tuesday’s game has value in that they’re facing a team in the top four in the East.
“We need to start winning some games against some teams that are in the playoffs, and we’ve got to try and catch them,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We’ve been playing good hockey. There’s no better time to play these guys.