Three strikes and Bruins are out
Among Blake Wheeler, David Krejci, and Michael Ryder, the three forwards who were among the most dangerous offensive weapons the Bruins had on their roster last season, there should have been at least four pucks behind Jose Theodore last night.
With a swaggering Krejci igniting the attack, the line jacked up the heat on the Washington defense and generated chance after chance. There was the all-alone-in-front opportunity for Wheeler in the first. There were the pair of Ryder slot chances, both off turnovers created by the forecheck. There was Krejci’s penalty shot at 10:34 of the second.
“It felt like a blowout in our end,’’ said Wheeler, whose line combined for 15 of the 42 shots the Bruins put on Theodore. “It felt like last year.’’
But in this perfect storm of failure that has engulfed the Black and Gold, all the magic in the Bruins’ sticks has turned to dust. Theodore, the latest hot goalie to stare down the Bruins, stayed compact on Wheeler’s shot and gobbled up the puck with his chest. On both Ryder opportunities, Theodore booted out the attempts. Then when Krejci could have given his team a one-goal lead, Theodore took up enough of the net to force the center to shoot wide right.
At the other end, after Matt Hunwick threw an ill-timed third-period reverse pass into empty space behind the Boston net, Alexander Semin pulled the puck off the wall and fed Brooks Laich in front for the winning goal.
“I’ve replayed that about 100 times in my head,’’ said Hunwick. “If I could redo it, I’d shoot it off the glass and let the forwards chase it.’’
It was one of three third-period strikes by the Capitals in a a 4-1 victory before 17,565 at TD Garden that left the Bruins in 12th place in the East and searching for a goal-scoring fix that might not be within this current group.
“We played a really good game, but that’s not good enough,’’ Wheeler said. “Two points are all you can be judged on.’’
The Bruins are 0-6-2 in their last eight. The last time they were winless in eight straight was from Dec. 22, 1955, to Jan. 12, 1956. They have scored 12 goals during the tumble, a miserable 1.5 goals per game.
“From my perspective, I’m seeing a team that’s working hard and getting some great scoring chances,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “After two periods, there’s no doubt which team was the better team tonight. But the minute they scored a goal in the third, with what’s been happening, we kind of tightened up and it got worse.’’
After the loss, the reaction in the dressing room was one of utter bewilderment. The Bruins had done just about everything right. Alex Ovechkin potted an empty-netter for his 36th strike, but they had limited the Russian machine to just a single shot before that. Washington’s power play, the best in the league (26.3 percent entering the night), went scoreless on four opportunities. In the first period, the Bruins poured 13 pucks on Theodore while limiting the Capitals to five shots on Tim Thomas.
During the same shift in the second period, Patrice Bergeron whipped a shot off the crossbar, then regained the puck, dragged it around the defense, and wristed a shot that Theodore stuffed.
“You think guys don’t want to score?’’ Marc Savard asked. “Rydes is bearing down, and the shots that he gets off backdoor are ripped. But it’s a save.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s not like guys don’t want to score on this team. Guys want to put the puck in the net. Maybe we have to sacrifice a chicken or a rooster or something like that to try and change our luck.’’
Washington, now winners of a franchise-best 11 straight games, made the Bruins pay for not burying their chances. In the second, Tom Poti rushed the puck and spotted Mike Knuble crashing the net. Knuble tapped Poti’s feed past Thomas (22 saves) at 2:04.
In the third, once Laich made it a 2-1 game, the Capitals doubled their lead when Poti, with little resistance, cruised through the neutral zone and flipped the puck to the slot, where Boyd Gordon slammed a shot home at 7:51. Ovechkin scored his empty-netter at 19:28.
The Capitals, the best team in the East, may not have played their best game of their 11-win string. But in the critical moments that can turn a loss into a win, they emerged. Theodore made timely, game-changing saves. Poti rushed the puck like no Boston defenseman can. Their forwards converted scoring chances into goals.
The Bruins did none of those things.
“We’re still in the mix,’’ said Julien. “One of our goals is to try and win those games in hand, because they can make a difference. But those things are starting to slip away. So we’ve got to really bear down and turn things around as quickly as we can. It’s got to be next game.’’