By Kirk Luedeke
WASHINGTON—Tim Thomas made 29 saves and the Boston Bruins got a late goal from captain Zdeno Chara to grab a 4-3 victory against the Washington Capitals and move ahead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series 2 games to 1.
The B’s overcame 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to grab a 3-2 lead early in the third period on Brian Rolston’s first playoff goal since before the NHL lockout of 2004-05. However, the Caps struck back when forward Brooks Laich slipped behind the Boston defense, taking a long clearing pass from Nicklas Backstrom before faking Thomas to the ice and roofing a forehand shot into the net with less than six minutes remaining.
The game seemed destined for overtime the way the first two contests of the series had gone when Chara rifled a shot from the left point that hit Capitals defenseman Roman Hamrlik’s stick and ricocheted into the net past rookie netminder Braden Holtby with 1:53 left in regulation.
“There was no panic; you can’t afford to panic,” Thomas said of the closely-contested game. “Having said that, I don’t think anyone can say that we knew we were going to come back, we knew we were going to win. We knew what we had to do to try to make that happen, the way we needed to play to make that happen.”
Rolston, the team’s “old man” at 39, has been playing like he did in his prime since being acquired from the New York Islanders at the trade deadline. Although the veteran took a few games to settle in, he finished the season with 15 points in 21 games, and has three points in as many playoff contests. He collected a Chris Kelly rebound at 1:02 of the final frame and fired it home to give his team a lead that held up for much of the period before Laich drew Washington even.
“We played a solid team game,” Rolston said. “Obviously, if we could get a couple (of power play) goals that would be nice, too. It was just a solid team game and I thought we played with a lot of emotion tonight.”
For Thomas, no save on the night was bigger than the one he made on Jay Beagle late in the second period when the Caps forward cruised alone through the slot and took a perfect pass from behind the net. Thomas was able to react quickly and squeeze the pads together, thwarting what could have been a back-breaking strike in a 2-2 game.
“It was big for us to start scoring obviously, with the way the first two games of this series went,” said Thomas. “Unfortunately, they started scoring a little bit more, but at the end of the game we had one more than they did.”
After Alexander Semin scored on a first period power play goal, Rich Peverley started the scoring for Boston just 35 seconds into the second 20 minutes when he used his speed to beat the defense and zipped a high shot that hit Holtby’s glove, but bounced into the net behind him.
However, Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin answered to re-take the lead with his first goal of the 2012 playoffs just 13 seconds later when he fired a shot that hit Dennis Seidenberg’s stick and changed speeds, appearing to fool Thomas.
Paille then made a nifty move in front of the Washington net to corral a Greg Zanon point shot, switch from forehand to backhand, and calmly slide it past Holtby to pull the teams even at 9:38.
“Pretty sweet hands on that one,” linemate Shawn Thornton said later. “He was a first-round draft pick for a reason, and having played and practiced with him as long as I have, I’m not surprised he made that play look easy.”
The two teams battled back and forth, trading goals in the final frame amidst an escalating physical dimension. Brad Marchand was involved in several physical confrontations, culminating in a spear from Jason Chimera and an elbow to the head from Karl Alzner that ESPN Boston reported the Caps defender personally apologized to Marchand for as the winger boarded the team bus.
“It’s getting more emotional,” Chara said. “Players are more involved. It’s starting to be more and more physical.”
After a scrum in front of the Washington net resulted in Milan Lucic going off for an altercation with Matt Hendricks, Chara scored with the open ice available in the 4-on-4 situation, taking a pass from Patrice Bergeron and stepping into a blistering drive from the right point.
That left Thomas and the defense to hold down the fort for a late Washington power play (on the remaining Lucic penalty time) and preserve the win.
Although solid in the victory, the 28th of his career, all with Boston, Thomas made no secret of what he thought when asked to assess his performance on the night.
“It’s (the) playoffs,” Thomas said. “As long as you let in one less than the other goalie, I don’t really care.”
Backstrom faces suspension
Nicklas Backstrom was assessed a match penalty as time expired for a cross-check he delivered to the face of Bruins forward Rich Peverley as time expired.
If upheld by the league, the call carries an automatic 1-game suspension. Capitals head coach Dale Hunter felt the NHL would rescind the suspension upon review of the play.
"The only thing that's disappointing for me personally is that this is the third time in three games our player has been cross-checked in the face,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “You hope that those things don't get out of hand.”
Chara’s big night
Zdeno Chara’s game-winning goal was bolstered by assists on the Peverley and Rolston goals, moving him into a tie for the team scoring lead (with Chris Kelly and Brian Rolston). He now has seven goals and 25 points in his Bruins playoff career (57 games).
Brian Rolston knows that most players in his situation just two months ago would not have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
Acquired by the New York Islanders last summer, the veteran forward with more than 1,250 NHL games under his belt was stuck in neutral, with just four goals and nine points at the trade deadline. The B’s acquired him along with defenseman Mike Mottau (Quincy, Mass.) for a couple of low-end prospects, and Rolston rewarded that faith by playing inspired hockey down the stretch.
Now, as he plays for the club he skated for from 2000-04, he realizes the opportunity he’s been given.
“More than words can say,” Rolston said when asked how gratifying it was for him to be back. “It speaks for itself, I think. The situation I was in and where I’m at now, it’s just exciting to be playing for the Stanley Cup.”
Like Mark Recchi a year ago, Rolston is providing that important voice of experience. Although he doesn’t quite have Recchi’s storied postseason pedigree, Rolston did win the Stanley Cup as a rookie with the New Jersey Devils in 1995.
His goal in the third period of Game 3 was the 20th of his postseason career (73 games).