Nine days ago, Mathieu Perreault sat in the press box as a healthy scratch watching the Washington Capitals compete. On Tuesday night at Verizon Center, the speedy center propelled them to victory against the defending Stanley Cup champions on a night when the Capitals were without three of their biggest stars.
Perreault recorded his first career hat trick and led the Capitals to a 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins, sending the team out on a high note as it takes the next five days off for the NHL all-star break.
“This is what you dream of,” said Perreault, who finished with 13 minutes 56 seconds of ice time and has six points (including four goals) in the last four games. “You dream to play in the NHL, but when you get a hat trick, it’s even better.”
Once the Capitals knew they would be missing Alex Ovechkin (suspension), Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) and Mike Green (sports hernia) from the lineup at the same time for the first time since all three players entered the league, they spoke of needing the supporting cast to take on greater roles and responsibilities.
Perreault, taking on a role on the first line the past two games because of absences in the lineup, did precisely that.
His three goals — including the eventual game-winner — gave the Capitals leads at three different junctures against the Bruins, who entered the game as the highest-scoring team in the league with a goals per game average of 3.54. They were also three different styles of tallies, the first a chip shot on the rush, the second a pretty breakaway shot and the third a rebound created by hustle.
“We were talking in the morning about people stepping up when key guys are missing and Matty stepped up,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “You look at his stats when he was younger and stuff, he’s always put up numbers and won scoring races in junior. You know he had skill and that’s why he went right to the top line right from fourth line because we knew he could fill in with some skill.”
Washington failed to record its first shot on goal of the night until 6:49 elapsed. Then the Capitals came to life and created scoring chances against Boston backup goaltender Tuukka Rask (18 saves). The Bruins jumped out to a 1-0 lead, however, when Karl Alzner directed a shot by Rich Peverley into his own net with just over two minutes remaining in the opening frame.
The Capitals found a more consistent spark at the start of the second period and recorded a pair of goals in the first 2:55 of the frame to take a 2-1 lead.
First, rookie forward Cody Eakin took a shot from the left faceoff circle that wound up settling on Rask’s blocker and when the goaltender moved his arm, the puck trickled across the goal line. The tally evened the score at 1, 2:14 into the middle frame and marked Eakin’s first goal since Dec. 5.
Forty-one seconds later, Perreault recorded his first goal of the evening. On a three-on-two rush Alexander Semin sent a slap pass to the high slot where Perreault chipped the puck into an open cage to make it 2-1.
“That’s the type of player he is, he’s a first-line, second-line guy,” said Alzner, who has been playing with Perreault since their days with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. “When he’s in that position lot of times he’s going to score goals. . . . You get the feeling [Perreault’s on] when he’s moving the puck fast and he’s skating you can just tell he’s winning battles against guys who are almost always bigger than him.”
Boston’s offense rarely falls dormant though and it didn’t against the Capitals. A careless pass through the center of the defensive zone by John Carlson was tipped by Steven Kampfer to a streaking Tyler Seguin, who made it 2-2. Perreault answered.
The 24-year-old picked off a pass by Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuck in the neutral zone and broke himself free for a breakaway and fired a clean shot past Rask’s blocker to make it 3-2 14:23 into the second. Brad Marchand tied things up at 3 roughly three minutes later with Perreault in the penalty box for hooking.
That wouldn’t be the end of Perreault’s contributions to the scoresheet for the evening. In a strange turn of events, Perreault who is listed generously at 5 feet 10, high-sticked 6-9 Bruins blue liner Zdeno Chara and was whistled for a penalty early in the third.
Washington thwarted the power play and when Perreault stepped out of the box he zipped around the ice, angry at the call and determined to make an impact once more. He hustled to the front of the net as Roman Hamrlik fired a point shot, then shot the rebound to clinch his first career hat trick. Dennis Wideman’s empty-net tally with 27 seconds remaining added the final margin of victory.
“I was kind of [upset]. I came back and I got that bounce and I put it right in the net,” Perreault said of the shift on which he scored his third goal. “I felt really good today. As I get more ice time I feel more comfortable and I get more confidence out there. It’s a big part of my game when I get more ice time I’m a lot more comfortable.”