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Bruins 3, Capitals 2

Thomas helps Bruins hang on

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 19, 2010

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David Krejci is known as one of the Bruins’ sharpest playmakers. In last night’s final minute, Krejci made a tape-to-tape pass to set up a glittering scoring chance. Only problem was that Krejci passed to a guy in the wrong color — some guy named Ovechkin.

After the Bruins won a neutral-zone faceoff at 19:46, Krejci tried to clear the zone. Alexander Ovechkin, stationed close to the Washington blue line for the faceoff, read Krejci’s intentions and used the entire neutral zone to rev up to full speed by the time he picked off the pass.

Fortunately for Tim Thomas, Dennis Seidenberg helped to save the day. Seidenberg pressured Ovechkin and prevented him from slashing into the crease for a far more dangerous shot than the backhander he put on goal at 19:49.

“As soon as David pushed it that way, I pretty much knew that it was going to be me and Ovie,’’ Thomas said. “But whoever was backchecking on him actually forced him to not totally cut across the middle and not get to his forehand to get a good shot off. That’s what helped to make that save there.’’

And so Washington’s 26th and final shot of the third — conversely, the Bruins placed only two pucks on Michal Neuvirth in the last 20 minutes — thudded into Thomas, who preserved a 3-2 win before 17,565 at TD Garden.

“He certainly saved us. There’s no doubt about that,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “It’s unfortunate. We had a real good start. I thought we took the game to them very well in the first. The second period, we knew they were going to come out better.

“I thought we held our own and still had our chances. I thought we had about four really good chances to score that fourth goal and it never came. We came out in the third and we did exactly what we weren’t supposed to do. We were supposed to keep taking the game to them. We just didn’t do it. It’s unfortunate.’’

Thomas, under siege in the third period, steered aside 25 of 26 pucks in the final 20 minutes. After a first period in which the Capitals played 20 minutes of embarrassing, no-compete hockey, the big guns finally fired in the third. Ovechkin threw five pucks on goal. Nicklas Backstrom fired four shots on Thomas. Mike Green recorded three third-period shots.

Thomas stopped them all.

“I was hoping they would sleep the whole game,’’ Thomas said. “That wasn’t the case. They put on a big push.’’

The Bruins busted a three-game winless streak with last night’s victory. After mailing in one of their worst opening 20 minutes of the year in Thursday’s 4-3 loss to Montreal, the Bruins blew the Capitals’ doors off with three first-period strikes.

For all that, after Karl Alzner hummed a third-period slapper past Thomas at 14:32, what once looked like a laugher turned into a one-goal heart-stopper. The momentum shifted early in the second after Neuvirth kicked out a Tyler Seguin breakaway. Later in the shift, Matt Bradley popped in Washington’s first goal at 2:18.

“It was great,’’ Andrew Ference said of the first period. “It was probably one of the best of the year. It was more about not making mistakes and following our game plan almost every single shift. I don’t know that we had a single turnover at the offensive blue line. We were breaking the puck out well and winning races to the puck — basically everything we didn’t do in the third. We’re at a point in the season where we can’t really accept not having consistency. Especially when you start so well.’’

In the first, the Bruins outshot the Capitals, 11-5. They won nearly every race, battle, and physical confrontation against the reeling Capitals, who lost their eighth straight.

The Bruins scored first after Adam McQuaid stood up to a puck-carrying David Steckel and forced a turnover at the red line. Blake Wheeler entered the offensive zone with speed, then laid a drop pass for Patrice Bergeron, who stepped into a one-timer that dribbled between Neuvirth’s pads at 3:27.

The Bruins doubled their lead at 8:13. Brad Marchand carried the puck down the left-side wall, then reversed his trajectory and found Ference at the left point. Ference floated a shot on goal that bounced off traffic and beat Neuvirth.

The Bruins scored their third goal when the No. 2 line popped in its second goal of the period. With Mark Recchi battling in front, Bergeron spotted Wheeler open in the slot. Wheeler responded by rapping a one-timer past Neuvirth at 17:03.

It was the strongest game for Wheeler, Bergeron, and Recchi so far, as they were also used as a matchup line against Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Knuble.

They played a hard, edgy, north-south style that resulted in puck possession and scoring chances.

“If you’re going hard at them, it makes their job all the more difficult,’’ said Wheeler (goal and assist in 15:44 of ice time). “When you create turnovers in the offensive zone, that’s when you create scoring chances. I just think we’ve really been doing a better job of not sitting back and trying to force the issue.’’

Puzzling, then, that Wheeler and the rest of the Bruins couldn’t play anything resembling that game in the third. Two points, however, are two points.

“He was huge again for us tonight,’’ Wheeler said of Thomas. “It was good enough, I guess.’’

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