BOSTON | The Washington Capitals shipped up to Boston and got handed a beating.
They were bruised and battered after the whistles and between them got blown out of the building 4-1 by the Bruins. Goaded into fights and involved in a lot of pushing and shoving, the Caps fell into the trap of playing Boston’s physical style.
“It’s their game, it’s not ours. We have to understand that,” coach Adam 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.”
The Caps lost in many ways Saturday afternoon at TD Garden. Defensive miscues cost them on goals against, and a failure to pick up a point for the fourth time in five games put another big dent in their playoff hopes. They’re seven points back of the final playoff spot with 21 games to go.
“It’s really tough. We need the wins,” said center Marcus Johansson, who was credited with the Caps’ only goal when the Bruins scored on themselves. “We’re a little behind here, and we need the wins to be able to make the playoffs, and we’ve got to find a way to win these tight games. That’s the way it is.”
But this wasn’t tight, and the Caps lost their composure several times. Center Mike Ribeiro jawed at a fan in the stands who was making a crybaby face at him in the penalty box, and forward Matt Hendricks gestured and exchanged words with another fan as he went down the tunnel after his second fight of the day.
The Bruins engaged the Caps in a lot of post-whistle extracurricular activities and pushing and shoving, but players insisted that didn’t affect them.
“It was just intensity,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We haven’t seen a whole lot of that in our games, so it was just a little bit more intense than we’re used to.”
Boston thrives on that kind of intensity, eager to bully opponents while beating them. Oates said his players got caught up in some of the post-whistle stuff late in the loss.
All along it was an ongoing sideshow to the Bruins’ domination in the offensive zone. Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and David Krejci put on quite the display while taking advantage of a banged-up Washington blue line. Troy Brouwer’s turnover and Jack Hillen’s blunder in the corner cost the Caps dearly.
“We made a couple mistakes,” said defenseman Steve Oleksy, who was on the ice for three of four goals against. “I think we made a couple mistakes, and they capitalized early. Obviously when they pop a couple early it’s a different game.”
Forced to skate uphill against a relentless opponent, the Caps couldn’t dictate the tempo and had to exist within the framework of what the Bruins wanted.
That included three fights. Ribeiro appeared to be dragged into the first of his NHL career by Brad Marchand late in the second period, and Hendricks dropped the gloves with Horton eight seconds later. Hendricks had tried to fight either Horton or Shawn Thornton earlier in the period.
“I was yelling at him. Like, three times I yelled at him and he didn’t look at me,” Horton said. “And then, kind of, he just sprinted at me. He kind of caught me with my gloves there.”
“I mean, we don’t like to see our top line fight, give in to stuff like that, so it’s one of those things where you’ve got to stick up for your teammates,” said McQuaid, who ultimately fought Hendricks. “I saw Thorty challenging him … and he looked like he didn’t want to go with Thorty so I gave him a second option, and I guess he didn’t want Thorty, so he made a smart decision going to me.”
“That’s the biggest joke I’ve ever seen, in my opinion,” Alzner said. “The fact that they let those guys corner a guy like that. For all they know Hendy had a broken hand and he can’t fight. If we would’ve done that to [Bruins star Tyler] Seguin, you know, [John Erskine] and Hendy? You think they would’ve let that happen? It’s questionable, very questionable.”
Asked what the Caps could do to respond to the Bruins’ antics with Hendricks, Alzner said: “Go after one of their guys. I guess that’s the only thing you can do. We’re probably not going to do that because we’re not that kind of team. But that’s the only thing you can do.”
No Caps player fought with McQuaid or Thornton in the game’s final minutes. Doing so in the final five minutes of a game like this could have led to a suspension and/or fine.
Ideally Washington would have preferred to answer in different ways.
“Play better than them,” defenseman John Carlson said. “Try to drag them into penalties if they’re going to try to do that. I thought there might have been a few times that we could have got a little luckier with penalties when they’re going to push the envelope like that and toe that line.”
Toeing the line and playing on edge is exactly what the Bruins want to do. They improved to 41-15-2 over the past two seasons in a game that included at least one fight.
It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between the Caps and Bruins, dating to last season’s chippy, seven-game playoff series and a March 5 game at Verizon Center that Boston lost in overtime after blowing a 3-0 lead.
“There’s a little bit that carried over from the playoffs last year, and what happened our first game this year we wanted a better game,” McQuaid said. “I thought we played with a little bit more emotion.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien noted the Caps’ emotion led to a lot of the chippiness. “They’re fighting for their lives, trying to get themselves into a playoff spot,” he said.
But there wasn’t enough of a response from the Caps on Saturday afternoon when the Bruins ran roughshod over them. Oates couldn’t fault goaltender Michal Neuvirth for much, pointing to defensive blunders as the reason his team fell behind.
And when the Bruins took part in some of what left wing Aaron Volpatti called “headlocks and all that stuff after the whistle,” the Caps let it get to them and likely hurt their chances of making a push.
“It’s part of the game,” Oates said. “There’s going to be nights during the course of the year that there’s going to be some fights and the game is not as fluid, it’s more choppy. It shouldn’t affect us.”