Capitals’ home ice advantage melts on late Chara goal

Boston takes series lead on tally with 1:53 left

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As teams in other first-round playoff series lit up the scoreboard, the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins spent the first two games in tight-checking, low-scoring games.

Turns out the offense was just fashionably late, showing up for Game 3 Monday night at Verizon Center. Suddenly, the goaltenders looked human as the Caps and Bruins proved the red lights behind the nets were good for something.

But not good for the Caps as they lost 4-3 on defenseman Zdeno Chara’s goal with 1:53 left. They trail the defending Stanley Cup champions 2-1 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, and the home-ice advantage they gained by stealing Game 2 is gone.

“It’s tough, but again, it’s nothing to lose. You know, series not ended, and somebody have to win, somebody have to lose,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Unfortunately we were losing, and we’re looking forward to next game. I think we play great today, but we make a couple mistakes and it costs us a goal. That was great battle, but we lost.”

Brooks Laich gave the Caps a huge emotional lift by scoring with six minutes left. But everything fell apart when Chara’s shot deflected off Roman Hamrlik’s stick and past phenom goaltender Braden Holtby. As Laich said, “sometimes you can’t defend against bad luck.”

But the Caps struggled to defend all night, as Boston’s offense finally stirred to make Holtby look ordinary. Teammates praised the 22-year-old rookie goaltender, who was again hard on himself after allowing four goals on 29 shots.

“It’s not the first time it’s happened, and it’s not the end of the world. You can’t be 100 percent at your best every day,” Holtby said. “That’s just not gonna happen. All you can do is be professional about it and make sure you can do everything you can to be at a level that will make you [better].”

The Caps, who were so good at playing in front of Holtby in Games 1 and 2, let up too many opportunities. Pucks were left in key scoring areas with unmarked Bruins attackers, and that’s how the offense appeared.

“I thought they had too many chances. I thought that we did a great job the past two games of talking away the middle of the ice and leaving them the outside shots and the perimeter shots and it doesn’t matter if they have 30 shots or 40 shots against us as long as they’re not shooting from the middle of the ice all the time,” defenseman John Carlson said. “Tonight I thought we showed spots that we did it well, and certainly it seemed like they were getting too many chances.”

First, it was Rich Peverley scoring just 35 seconds into the second period by firing one off Holtby’s glove and in. It was just the third goal Holtby allowed this series and perhaps the first example of him looking like a rookie goaltender instead of a seasoned veteran.

That tied the score 1-1, as the Caps had taken the lead and ignited an already excited crowd with Alexander Semin’s power-play goal in the first. It snapped an 0-for-5 drought with the man advantage in this series and was the result of everything Washington players talked about earlier Monday.

“You gotta try to get more shots, get the shots through, traffic in front of the net,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “All the shots we’ve been taking right now, [Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas has] seen all the shots. We’ve got to create traffic and screen the goalie a little bit more.”

The Caps’ other goal of the night came without traffic but rather the speed and skill of captain Alex Ovechkin, as he beat shutdown defenseman Denis Seidenberg and took advantage of a bouncing puck by beating Thomas on the rush. That was just 13 seconds after Peverley’s goal and was an impressive response that restored a lead.

Unfortunately for Washington, the Bruins weren’t done breaking out of their offensive doldrums. Holtby had been giving up a bevy of rebounds in this series but few times it really hurt him until midway through the second, when fourth-liner Daniel Paille found space in front of the crease to whack it in.

“That’s what D-men are for, and forwards collapses down to clear rebounds and help [Holtby] out,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We’ve got to help him out and make sure there’s no loose pucks around the net.”

Then 39-year-old veteran Brian Rolston made it 3-2 Bruins early in the third period, finding the loose puck to score from the doorstep.

Rolston’s goal was a testament to working hard around the crease, as he won a battle with Brooks Laich before putting the puck past Holtby.

“I think just one thing is to just put shots on the net but the other thing is to have quality shots, shots with traffic,” said Chara, Boston’s captain, said earlier Monday. “Create more, harder for him to maybe see them. It’s one of those things that we need to be better at.”

Being better in the offensive zone gave the Bruins their first lead of the series, but they couldn’t protect it, as Laich put on an impressive move to tie it late.

Still, Boston wasn’t done. Chara popped one past Holtby in the waning moments to provide the dagger.

“It’s tough. It’s really tough,” Backstrom said. “It’s tough but it’s a new game on Thursday.”

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