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We’re one game in, and the Bruins and Washington Capitals have already accumulated a series worth of bumps and bruises.
Both teams landed punches and counterpunches in a physically inducing postseason opener. Yet, with Caps netminder Vitek Vanecek exiting with a lower-body injury following Jake DeBrusk’s first-period tally, the Bruins struggled to generate significant pressure on a rusty Craig Anderson.
A more aggressive Caps squad looked a step quicker in the attacking end. Their perseverance eventually paid off in overtime as Nic Dowd tipped in the game-winner.
Here’s what we learned from Washington’s 3-2 OT triumph in Game 1.
Anderson entered Saturday’s tilt with only four regular-season appearances under his belt in 2021. His unlikely relief appearance of Vanecek put the Caps in a tough spot following DeBrusk’s equalizer with 6:50 left in the opening frame.
Surely, the Bruins know Anderson quite well from his days as an Ottawa Senator. A few years back, he backstopped the Sens to within a goal of a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Even with his success, he’s been susceptible to rebounds throughout his career.
Anderson didn’t look all that comfortable whenever the Bruins generated scoring chances. They fired 63 shot attempts Saturday night. Only 27 landed on net, with 22 coming against Anderson in the final 51:31.
It didn’t matter the situation, 5v5 or on the power play. The Bruins struggled to establish puck possession and generate quality attacking zone time. Even when they established clean zone entries and odd-man scoring chances, the Bruins looked for the perfect play over firing pucks on Anderson more often than not.
“They’re a strong team on the walls, and they play a physical style obviously. It’s one of those things where puck possession is key,” DeBrusk said. “There were moments where we did have it and moments where we didn’t.”
“We didn’t generate enough, no matter who was in net,” Cassidy added. “We had two odd-man rushes right out of the gate. I think Marsh [Brad Marchand] and Pasta [David Pastrnak] both passed up chances to score goals. Usually, when that happens, it tells me we’re overpassing and not as dialed in as we needed to be.”
The Bruins still have an advantage between the pipes over the Caps, no matter who Peter Laviolette trots out. Ilya Samsonov – recently removed from COVID protocol – may enter a similar situation if Laviolette tabs him to start Game 2. Whether it’s Samsonov, Anderson or Vanecek, the Bruins need to establish more urgency in the attacking end before the series shifts to Boston for Game 3 Wednesday night.
Aside from Taylor Hall drawing penalties and Craig Smith generating looks with secondary chances, the top six struggled to generate quality looks against a heavy Caps bunch. In particular, Marchand seemed a bit off at times with his puck decisions and head-scratching feeds in the attacking end.
While the Bruins’ limited damage against Alex Ovechkin and company, the top six hardly found any room to work with against the heavy Caps.
“Our top guys didn’t seem to have it,” Cassidy said afterward. “We couldn’t find ice. Give Washington credit. We couldn’t escape pressure on the power play and find the open guy. A lot of the guys who had done the scoring for us just weren’t able to get to their game tonight or get the puck to cooperate or support each other to generate enough offense I thought. It’s not typically what we’ve seen from that group, so hopefully Game 2 they’re a little sharper.”
The good news for the Bruins this season: They’re no longer a one-line squad. The top two lines can now pick one another up whenever they have a rare off night. The bottom six also saw an uptick heading into the playoffs and notched both Boston tallies on Saturday.
Yet, the Bruins can’t afford the top two lines to enter a dry spell in this tightly contested series. Otherwise, they’ll have to reserve some off-season tee times earlier than expected.
Any Rask detractor who comes across this piece will likely gloss over the first two takeaways and solely pin the loss on him.
I’m sorry to disappoint those readers, but Rask isn’t to blame here.
Surely, the winningest goalie in franchise history would want to have Dowd’s OT tip-in back. After all, the puck bounced off his chest and into his skate before the rubber trickled past the goal-line. Usually, he holds on to those pucks and covers up for a faceoff. Instead, he watched the red light behind flicker off, prompting social media into meltdown mode.
“It was a one-timer from the blue-line there, and I thought it was going over my head or at my head or something,” Rask said, “and then it hit my stick, it hit my chest and somehow ended up in the net. I think I probably bumped it into my own net.”
It wasn’t a soft goal by any means. But Dowd’s tip off T.J. Oshie’s one-timer from the point left some Bruins fans scratching their heads.
The backlash didn’t start and end in overtime. It festered from the moment Tom Wilson netted the opening tally on a de-facto 3-on-1 rush set up by Charlie McAvoy breaking his stick on a shot attempt in Boston’s attacking end.
Rask had another tough break against him in the middle stanza after Brendan Dillion’s point shot deflected off Jeremy Lauzon – engaged in a net-front battle with Alex Ovechkin – and into the back of the net.
Rask didn’t perform all that poorly during his 29-save outing. He had difficulties tracking the puck at times, but he hardly left any juicy rebounds whenever he saw shots cleanly.
A pending unrestricted free agent, Rask doesn’t have many chances left to finally hoist the Cup and silence his doubters. But, even with Jeremy Swayman waiting in the wings, the Finn isn’t thinking about his future at all as the Bruins look for a bounce-back effort Monday night.
“I haven’t really thought of that,” Rask said of his future. “I’m just trying to go game by game, series by series and then sees what the future brings after that. Obviously there’s going to be some decisions to be made, but we’ll do that when the time is right.”
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