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They’ll need to capitalize

Ovechkin, Washington look to boost chances

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / April 13, 2012
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When you’re a gifted goal scorer, it’s not difficult to make the opposing team pay. At least, most of the time.

Washington forward Alex Ovechkin has been punishing opposing defenses for his entire career. He has soft hands, great size, and dazzling moves to the net. And he isn’t the only one on his team who can cash in on scoring opportunities.

So it was remarkable that none of the Capitals were able to dent Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas Thursday night as Boston won the opener of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal, 1-0, on Chris Kelly’s goal at 1:18 of overtime.

The Bruins’ defensive strategy ruled the day, with the Capitals putting just 17 shots on net.

Ovechkin was limited to just one, as was wing Alexander Semin. Center Nicklas Backstrom had a team-high three and center Marcus Johansson had a pair, including the Capitals’ lone shot in overtime that was kicked out by Thomas and sent the other way for the Kelly goal.

The star for Washington wasn’t any of the forwards - it was inexperienced goalie Braden Holtby, who was sensational.

No one in the visiting dressing room was down in the dumps. As much as they felt Holtby deserved better, they plan to build off their performance in the third period, which was by far their best of the night.

“I think both goaltenders played pretty good,’’ said Backstrom. “Holtby stepped up for us and he kept us in the game when they got a lot of power plays in the second period.

“I think in the third we played pretty good. I think we were closer to winning the game in the third than they were.

“You’ve just got to focus on the next game. I mean, it’s the best out of seven. You’ve just got to leave this game behind you and look forward to Saturday.’’

Backstrom said the Capitals gained confidence as the game wore on, particularly in the third period when they were finally able to penetrate the Bruins’ zone.

“I think we did an all right first period and they had a lot of power plays in the second period but then, in the third, we played pretty good and we had some chances, too,’’ said Backstrom. “But it was a close game. Sometimes it happens.’’

Ovechkin said it was tough sledding offensively, and he tried to impose his will physically.

“Lots of hits, it’s the playoffs,’’ said Ovechkin. “It’s a tight game and I think both teams played more defensive than offensive.

“The third guy was always high. It doesn’t matter if I have the puck at the blue line and start skating, two guys were on me and the third guy was in the middle.

“Again, it’s the playoffs. That one shot, I should score.

“Next game is going to be different. We know we can play against them. It’s nothing special out there. Now we just have to stay focused.’’

There was much speculation about the matchup between Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and Ovechkin. But it was Dennis Seidenberg who was battling with the Capitals captain all night.

“I think it was a great battle,’’ said Ovechkin. “He made some big hits and I made some big hits, so I’m enjoying it actually.’’

Forward Troy Brouwer said the Capitals were able to make some adjustments along the way, and although they didn’t translate to goals, they did result in better play.

“We have to work on the cycle a little bit more,’’ said Brouwer. “Not every shot has to be from the slot and a Grade A opportunity. We need to get cycles out of the corners, shots from bad angles and guys going to the net.

“Our penalty kill was real good and we were blocking shots and clearing rebounds, but we have to make sure we’re not taking as many penalties and not giving the momentum to them.’’

Both teams are expecting a tough, long series, the tone of which was set Thursday night.

“It’s a great battle out there,’’ said Backstrom. “There’s nothing wrong with the confidence. We know they’re physical, but we like this, too. That’s the way it’s going to be in the playoffs. We’ve just got to be ready for it. We can play physical, too.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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