Bearing down when it counts
No room for error in one-goal games
WASHINGTON - With roughly six minutes remaining in the first period of Thursday night’s 2-1 loss to the Capitals, Washington defenseman Mike Green sent a pass that whizzed across Bruins goalie Tim Thomas’s crease. The defense was caught out of position, but no Capital was able to bang home a one-timer.
Following the play, during which Thomas plopped to the butterfly position, he remained on the ice with his pads tucked together, his body language signaling frustration.
Another night, another one-goal game.
And this time, another loss. Thomas allowed two goals - neither of which, it could be argued, was his fault - as Capitals rookie Braden Holtby made 44 saves in a sterling effort that sent the series back to Boston tied, 2-2.
“We came here to win two games. We didn’t do that,’’ said Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. “We won one of them, but now it’s a best-of-three series. We have to bear down and hopefully play better next game.’’
On the Capitals’ first goal, Zdeno Chara was caught out of position allowing Capitals forwards Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson to initiate a two-on-one. In a game - and series - where every mistake is magnified, Chara’s positioning left Thomas vulnerable as Laich fed Johansson for the tally 1:22 into the game.
“Not really the way you want to start out the game,’’ Thomas said. “That kind of circumstance, there’s an odd-man rush. The puck rolled and stuck right to Johansson’s stick, too. He was able to bury it top corner.’’
While Holtby was remarkably busy all night, Thomas faced only three shots in the first period and three again in the third. The bulk of Washington’s chances came in the second period, when Thomas steered away 14 of 15 attempts.
“After starting out the first period with so few shots, I was happy to be getting some action,’’ said Thomas. “At that point [in the second], I thought things were turning our way even though they were getting chances.’’
Thomas, who had his postseason shutout streak of 161:41 snapped in Game 2, set the tone for the second period with a stupendous save against Laich from the high slot off a feed from Alexander Semin. Holtby answered, robbing Chara from close to the same spot where he scored Tuesday’s game-winner.
The Capitals nearly made it 2-1 before they scored the eventual winning goal. Laich skated onto a fluttering puck between the circles and fired on net. Thomas ducked, but the puck wobbled high and nicked the top left side of the crossbar to keep the game tied.
Following that play, Thomas made eight saves in a span of 6:03. Four more shots were blocked by teammates. It was easily Thomas’s busiest stretch.
“Washington and us are two patient teams that play well defensively,’’ Seidenberg said. “Both teams aren’t giving up much, the goalies are playing well, and that amounts to tight games.”
The winner came with the Capitals on the power play, and was one of prettiest goals of the series. Keith Aucoin fed Semin by the left circle. With Laich cutting toward the net, Semin gathered the puck and wristed a laser into the top corner, beating Thomas glove side.
“I was reading that that shot was going to go blocker. That’s why I moved that way,’’ said Thomas. “I’m not sure [if it hit Chara’s stick]. I’d have to watch the replay, which I won’t.’’
Added Bruins coach Claude Julien, “That was a good shot by Semin. Couldn’t have asked for a better shot.’’
Through four games, Thomas has played with a lead for 14 minutes 51 seconds.
“Generally, you’re not going to get too many two-goal leads in the playoffs,’’ he said. “You can always hope, but you pretty much know that’s not what’s going to happen.’’
At this point, any lead would do.