The Bruins had a nice thing going recently. They’d won five in a row and they were just about back to full health (with just Charlie McAvoy out, and he’s reported to be on his way back soon). Solidifying one of the three automatic spots in an increasingly challenging Atlantic Division seems more likely now than it did a few weeks ago. Just about everything’s going well here.
Naturally, all this made the Capitals’ arrival in Boston perfectly timed.
For the 14th consecutive game, the Capitals had their way with the Boston. There are a number of reasons and explanations for all 14 of these losses, I suppose — timing, injuries, roster turnover, etc. — but it’s hard not to feel particularly victimized by goalie Braden Holtby and the indominable Alex Ovechkin.
Holtby already has a Vezina Trophy and his name on the Stanley Cup, but if he could play his entire career against just the Bruins, he’d have Ken Dryden, Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy weeping. His career numbers are excellent — a 2.45 goals against average, .919 save percentage, 34 shutouts and he’s averaged 41 wins in 64 starts per season since 2014-15. Those are the numbers of a perennial Vezina candidate, for sure.
But against the Bruins? in 18 games, he’s 16-2, his save percentage jumps to .944 and his goals against drops 1.85. Toss four shutouts in there, too, just to increase the ridiculous factor. And this all began in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, when Washington knocked out the defending champions on the back of his .940 save percentage and only 15 goals allowed in seven games.
More gentlemanly in his approach is Ovechkin. Arguably the greatest player of his generation and inarguably the greatest scorer, he’s notched 24 goals and 25 assists in 47 career games against the Bruins, and you can toss in another two goals and three assists from that 2012 series. It’s almost a relief that he’s not more of a nightmare: he’s burned the Canadiens and Sabres for 31 goals in the same number of games, 27 goals in 45 games against the Senators, and more goals in more games against his division rivals in New York, Long Island and Philadelphia, naturally. He’s an equal-opportunity dream crusher in that way.
The last time the Bruins managed to overcome all this was March 29, 2014. That night in Washington, Jarome Iginla scored twice and Chad Johnson stopped 31 of 33 shots en route to a 4-2 win. It’s been a recurring nightmare ever since. To wit:
Oct. 11, 2014: Capitals 4, Bruins 0
I was at this game, and wound up filing a column on Bobby Robins’ long journey to the NHL. Unfortunately, seeing Robins at his Bruins locker was the highlight of this night. Ovechkin scores twice in the first period, and things go downhill from there.
March 15, 2015: Capitals 2, Bruins 0
It’s a shutout for Holtby, so John Carlson’s goal in the first period might as well have been enough.
April 8, 2015: Capitals 3, Bruins 0
Holtby stops all 27 shots he sees from the Bruins (including 6 alone by Torey Krug), but again, Carlson’s goal less than five minutes into the first period would be the decider. Matt Niskanen and Marcus Johansson added insurance, though.
Nov. 15, 2015: Capitals 4, Bruins 1
Jimmy Hayes scores one of his rare goals in a Bruins uniform to give Boston a 1-0 lead, but Ovechkin answers about five minutes later to tie it. Goals by Brooks Laich and Carlson in the second period set up Karl Alzner’s empty-net goal in the third to seal this one.
Jan. 5, 2016: Capitals 3, Bruins 2
Here’s another game where the Bruins showed life late, but too late. Washington was up to a 2-0 lead when Loui Eriksson scored towards the end of the second period from Patrice Bergeron and Brett Connolly (who will soon enough be burning Boston on the other side of this series). Johansson makes it 3-1 Washington, Bergeron scores on the powerplay in the last half of the third, but that’s where it ends.
March 5, 2016: Capitals 2, Bruins 1 (OT)
Bergeron scores on Philipp Grubauer in the first period, Alzner scores for Washington on Tuukka Rask in the second, and that’s how it holds until overtime, when Niskanen puts the game away from the top of the slot for Washington’s 100th point of the season.
Dec. 7, 2016: Capitals 4, Bruins 3 (OT)
After falling down 3-0 five minutes into the second period, the Bruins turn it on. Dominic Moore and David Pastrnak score before the end of the period, Colin Miller cashes in on the powerplay in the third, and the Bruins outshoot Washington 34-20 overall. But it doesn’t mean much when Nicklas Backstrom scores the game-winner in overtime.
Feb. 1, 2017: Capitals 5, Bruins 3
Again, the Bruins win on shots 33-22, but again it doesn’t matter. T.J. Oshie and Backstrom stake the Caps to a 2-0 lead, Brad Marchand brings it back to 2-2, and Ovechkin gives Washington a lead they won’t relinquish before the third period begins. Brett Connolly — now wearing red and white — and Evgeny Kuznetsov score to make David Krejci’s goal with 1:30 left in the game meaningless.
April 8, 2017: Capitals 3, Bruins 1
Hey, Holtby has the night off! Unfortunately, in the Bruins last game of the regular season, it doesn’t matter. Grubauer stops 21 of 22 shots he sees, with only Colin Miller beating him in the second period.
Nov. 4, 2017: Capitals 3, Bruins 2
Washington jumps out to a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Pastrnak brings the Bruins within 1, only to have the two-goal lead extended again by Wilson. Pastrnak cashes in on a late power-play in the third period, but they don’t get any closer than that.
Dec. 14, 2017: Capitals 5, Bruins 3
This is a back-and-forth one until it isn’t. Bergeron ties the game at 1-1 in the second, Backstrom brings Washington back up 2-1, and then the floodgates open in the third. Alex Chiasson scores two consecutive goals — one shorthanded — and the Bruins get some hope when Krejci scores with less than four minutes to go. Ovechkin ends that with an empty-netter with about 90 seconds left, but even then, Bergeron scores on the powerplay again. It’s not enough, obviously, because it almost never is.
Dec. 28, 2018: Capitals 4, Bruins 3 (SO)
The most annoying of all losses — the shootout. Connolly ties it at 11:22 of the third to eventually force overtime, and inevitably, Ovechkin beats Anton Khudobin for the only goal of the shootout and another two points at the Bruins’ expense.
Oct. 3, 2018: Capitals 7, Bruins 0
Utter decimation on opening night. The Capitals follow up raising their first Stanley Cup banner by flattening the Bruins. Kuznetsov scores twice, and the other five goals were shared among the people. They outshoot Boston 37-25 and chase Rask less than halfway through the game.
Jan. 10, 2019: Capitals 4, Bruins 2
Not a bad effort by any stretch here, with Boston outshooting Washington 41-25. But a couple of quick mistakes and two goals from Ovechkin — including a 200-foot empty net goal the second Jaroslav Halak leaves his net for an extra attacker — were enough for the Capitals.
In this stretch, Washington has outscored Boston 52-21 (in actual hockey played). It’s like clockwork: schedule three games against the Capitals, mark down three losses and just hope one of them can at least salvage a point at the end of regulation.
There’s one more of these this season — Feb. 3 at Washington. Maybe that will be the one that stops all this. The odds of a 15-game winning streak have to be relatively low, right?