The Caps and Bruins played to another nail-biting finish Thursday night in DC. There have been occasional spells in this series where the action hasnt been delivered at a fever-pitch, but the atmosphere inside Verizon Center in the final three minutes was riveting. The Caps, and their remarkable 22-year old netminder Braden Holtby, were able to hold off the defending champs and it was up to the rookie goalie to save the day.
Everyone on the Capitals roster was determined to take up some of the slack left behind with Nicklas Backstrom serving his one-game suspension in Game 4. Mathieu Perreault was elevated to second-line status in place of Backstrom. Mike Knuble was given his first taste of this playoff series, as was John Erskine, who returned from the injured list to take the post held by Jeff Schultz in the first three games of this round.
Holtby was really sharp from the outset of the game. He moved around the crease with lightning quickness, using his reflexes to subdue the high-scoring defending champs.
The Caps gave him a lead to protect with their first shot of the game. Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson raced in on a 2-on-1 break while Zdeno Cara was caught up ice tangled together with Alex Ovechkin. Laich made a perfect pass around Brian Rolston which Johansson cradled, then roofed, over the glove of Tim Thomas at 1:22 of the opening period.
The Bruins would have the next nine shots of the period along the way to an alarming 45 for the game. Holtby kept turning them aside until Rich Peverley walked in on his own 2-on-1 odd-man rush.
Peverley held the puck on his forehand, changed the angle on his release ever-so-slightly and snapped a shot between the pads of the Caps netminder. Holtby got a piece of it with his stick but not enough.
The two teams would battle their way through 17 scoreless minutes in the second period, until the Caps would receive a power-play thanks to a hook by Patrice Bergeron. Whenever Bergeron or Chara is in the box, its a double-whammy for the Bs since those two can be vital penalty-killers.
The Caps would take the lead thanks to an extraordinary wrist shot from Alex Semin. Semin took a feed from Keith Aucoin, pulled up along the left wings boards, and may have deceived Thomas by appearing to be looking to make another pass. Instead, he wired a shot to the top corner of the cage over the glove of Thomas to make it 2-1 at 18:43 of the middle period.
The second period was loaded with fine goalie play. Holtby received two of many standing ovations for the finest of his 18 saves in the frame, while Thomas stared down 15 shots.
From a territorial standpoint, the Bruins had control of the third period, outshooting the Caps 13-3. The stats guys tell us the Bruins last shot on goal came from Ference with 7:13 left in regulation.
It sure seemed like Holtby was busier than that in the third. He and his mates were sprawling all over the ice to block shots from getting through to the goal.
The game would come to an end with a sell-out crowd on its feet and the decibel levels over 110. The Bruins pulled Thomas for an extra skater late in regulation, and they had the offensive zone draw they were looking for with 9.5 seconds to go.
For some reason, the clock did not start with the drop of the puck. We have heard some reports say that as many as five seconds elapsed before the time-clock clicked into gear. Holtby would hang on, finishing the night with a glove save that technically occurred after the final horn.
A 44-save gem has given the Caps new life, tying the series at two games apiece, and reducing this best of seven to a best of three.
Game 5 airs nationally on NBC this Saturday at 3 pm from TD Garden.
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