- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2012

BOSTON — Getting a lead and holding it is a trademark of Dale Hunter hockey with the Washington Capitals. They simply don’t lose when leading at the second intermission, and this time they didn’t need an impassioned speech from their coach to get things together.

Sure, the Capitals blew an early two-goal lead Saturday at TD Garden, and they even let things get interesting late. But they managed to hold on and close out the Boston Bruins 4-3 for their biggest road victory of the season.

“We’re definitely feeling good about that win. It doesn’t matter how that happens at the end, you’ve just got to make sure you get the win,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “That’s the old saying — it doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, right? We’re just happy that we got the two points.”

Especially, Alzner said, after the Florida Panthers picked up a point Friday night. Now Washington is just one point back of first place in the Southeast Division.

That’s thanks to a strong defensive game that led to some suffocating work against a hard forechecking Bruins team.

“They have guys that finish,” Hunter said. “I thought our D did a good job of using each other and getting pucks out of the zone.”

It seems the Capitals are at their best when not worrying about risk and reward. Take the lead, make the safe play.

That’s not ideal in the first period; it’s too easy for a talented team like the Bruins to turn up the aggression when facing a passive response. But once the Capitals did enough dominating for a few minutes to crush the hopes of another comeback, they were in a zone. A late goal by Boston made things interesting but didn’t change the final result.

Chip, chase, change. Lather, rinse, repeat.

“I think we can focus a little bit more on our defensive style. We’re not taking too many chances, as you can tell,” said forward Matt Hendricks, who scored his fourth of the season on a rebound. “We were really focused on getting pucks deep, keeping pucks down behind their net.”

As recently as Thursday night, players were confident that they didn’t have to worry about other teams doing work to get into the playoffs.

“We still believe we’re in control of our own destiny. We’re not at the point yet where we’re panicking and having to scoreboard watch every night,” forward Brooks Laich said. “We do watch to see what goes on, but we still feel like we’re in control of whether or not we’re going to be playing into April.”

It’s easy to feel in control after going on the road and beating the defending Stanley Cup champions. Washington should have been feeling confident early after goals by Alexander Semin and Hendricks, and though that lead evaporated, continued pressure and a poised power play helped it win back-to-back games away from Verizon Center for the first time since December.

“We haven’t been great on the road,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “We knew that we were getting down to the nitty gritty here, and we had to get some wins, and obviously this is one of the toughest buildings to come into and get two points. This was a huge win for us.”

This might not have been a typical grinding road victory, but the Capitals did do something very important: crashing the net and making life difficult on goaltender Tim Thomas and the defensemen directly in front of him. Goals came on sharp passes and rebounds, all around the crease.

That’s a recipe for success no matter the arena.

“Especially on the road, it doesn’t really matter. At this point in the season, goals are scored like that,” said goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who had 30 saves. “There’s not many pretty ones, maybe on the power play. But five-on-five, you’ve got to bang second or third rebound in or deflection or something like that. Teams are fighting for position. Everybody’s fighting for something.”