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With their season on the line, the desperate Washington Capitals took their best shot Sunday night against the Boston Bruins.
At times, the Bruins entered survival mode against a relentless Capitals attack. They weren’t lacking scoring chances, nor did they encounter issues matching their intensity, but the Bruins wound up on the wrong end of the shots on goal column.
Tuukka Rask kept his opportunistic team afloat with his best performance of the series. The Bruins made Rask’s effort worthwhile thanks to a pair of timely goals from their captain, Patrice Bergeron, and a highlight-reel marker by David Pastrnak.
The Capitals fired 41 of the game’s 60 shots on net. They outhit the Bruins 36-26. Yet, Bruce Cassidy’s squad didn’t look out of place. They didn’t have any lucky bounces go against them.
More importantly, they cashed in on their chances when it mattered most to secure a 3-1 series-clinching victory.
“A lot of the game seemed to be spent in our zone,” Cassidy said following Boston’s Game 5 triumph. “But you’re almost kind of as a coach, sitting there, it seemed like we were okay even though [most of the play] was in our [defensive] zone. We weren’t running around, we stuck to the structure, and tonight was one of those nights they didn’t get one [bounce] to rattle around.”
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins earned another second-round appearance on a night where former teammates Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug exited the 2021 postseason.
The longest-tenured Bruin has a knack for performing at his highest level in clinching scenarios, exemplified by his tying and winning markers in Boston’s epic Game 7 comeback over the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013.
On Sunday, the Bruins received a jolt from Pastrnak’s highlight-reel tally 2:28 into the second period. The desperate Caps pushed back for the equalizer on multiple occasions in the final 40 minutes of play.
But Patrice Bergeron took the wind out of Washington’s sails not just once but twice, beginning with Boston’s third shot on net at 14:05 of the second.
Connor Sheary scored 11 seconds into the third to put Washington back within striking distance. The Bruins remained calm under duress as the Capitals once again gained momentum in search of that elusive tying marker.
Eventually, Boston’s captain came to the rescue — again — firing another back-breaking tally past Ilya Samsonov with 7:35 left in regulation.
“That’s why you play the game,” Bergeron said regarding his stellar history in elimination games. “The adrenaline and the feeling that you get is always special this time of year. It’s always fun to be a part of it. You just try to stay in the moment, and that’s what I try to tell the guys is you just have to enjoy yourself and you can’t put too much weight on your shoulders. You’ve got to go out there and play and execute — and be the team that we can be night in and night out. And I thought we stayed in the moment tonight, and we got it done.”
That moment brought Bergeron and company a fourth consecutive trip to the postseason.
Boston’s all-time winningest netminder in both the regular season and playoffs encountered some tough luck on Nic Dowd’s overtime winner in Game 1. He even had a tough bounce go against him in Game 2 after Dmitri Orlov’s shot off a faceoff win creaked past Tuukka Rask’s pads.
But Rask’s confidence never wavered in his first postseason appearance since leaving the Toronto playoff bubble to attend to a family matter. The calm, cool and collected Rask posted a whopping .949 save percentage in Games 2-5. He withstood Washington’s pressure on Sunday, stopping 40 of 41 shots in his best outing of the series.
“I felt good the whole series,” Rask said. “I felt that this game was the most chances and shots that they had the whole series. So that’s likely one of the reasons why I looked like I was in a zone. In previous games, I only saw six shots halfway through the game and that’s harder. But yeah, it was one of those games today where and I was seeing the puck well. [The Capitals] didn’t create too much deflections or traffic, and that always helps.”
Even with Sunday’s busy outing, Rask didn’t need to stand on his head during the series. The Bruins established layers in front of Rask, keeping a potent Washington attack on the outside while limiting secondary scoring chances.
The Bruins needed Rask to bail them out at times on Sunday. He did just that, en route to his 56th career playoff win. And now Rask and the rest of his battle-tested teammates will receive a much-deserved breather.
The first-round victory is just settling in for the Bruins in this pandemic shortened season. As they capped off the night with handshakes highlighted by Bergeron’s emotional exchange with Chara at center ice.
“We’ve had so many battles together, and it was different to play him in a playoff series,” Bergeron said of his handshake with Chara. “But obviously we played against each other all year [in the regular season] and that helped us get used it for the playoffs. But that being said, it’s always different. At that time of the year, I try not to think about it and try to play your game and concentrate on what we can do as a team; and it definitely felt great to finish it off right away tonight.”
The Bergeron-led Bruins engaged in five physical and emotionally charged matchups. They encountered a pair of back-end injuries along the way with Jeremy Lauzon and Kevan Miller missing some time in the series. Instead of playing right away, they could use a breather to heal the lingering injuries and bumps and bruises before facing off against a veteran-heavy Penguins bunch or a defensively sound and physical Islanders squad.
A younger team may want to play as quickly as possible following an early series win. But in this pandemic-shortened campaign, the Bruins aren’t thinking about jumping back on the ice quickly.
“You always want to close out series as quickly as you can. It just takes away any stress and any possibility of losing obviously and guys want to rest up obviously. So I’m okay with it,” Cassidy said. “We’ll try to do whatever we can. We went through this a few years ago after Carolina and St. Louis — we had a long break. If that’s the case, we’ll try to build something in to keep the guys sharp. But at the end of the day, I think the guys have their eye on the prize sort of speak, and they’ll be fine whenever [the league] tells us we can play again.”
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