By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 12:13 AM
In the first 10 minutes Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals did nearly everything they wanted to do in setting a tone against the Boston Bruins. They registered hits, blocked shots and created a few prime scoring chances. But they never managed to crack goaltender Tim Thomas in those early minutes.
Regardless of how well they were playing overall, the Capitals simply couldn't cash in - a problem the Bruins wouldn't have midway through the period. After withstanding several chances in their zone, the Bruins took advantage of a few ill-timed Washington mistakes and became the second team in as many games to jump to a quick two-goal lead on the Capitals.
Unlike last Saturday's contest against Nashville, however, this deficit was one the Capitals couldn't come back from.
Thomas led with a 35-save performance as Boston defeated Washington, 3-1, at Verizon Center, ending the Capitals' four-game winning streak and marking the first time the Bruins have won a game between the teams in regulation since Jan. 23, 2006. They meet again Thursday night in Boston.
"I thought it was one of the hardest [efforts] we've played all year," said Jason Chimera, who assisted on the Capitals' lone goal. "It's just one of those things where you'd like to have those 10 minutes back and move on. We didn't play that bad, it was just that they capitalized on some chances. We had two breakdowns there and they scored two goals."
Nine minutes in, immediately following a tip-in chance for the Capitals by Alex Ovechkin, who went without a point for the first time this season and finished with a minus-2 rating, the Bruins' top line executed a textbook two-on-one play. Nathan Horton fed a pass to David Krejci through Tyler Sloan for an easy tip in that beat Washington netminder Michal Neuvirth as he went left to right across the goalmouth. It was the fourth time in six games this season that the Capitals (4-2) have given up the first goal.
Three minutes later on a broken play, the Capitals failed to pick up Johnny Boychuk, who joined the rush late. Neuvirth came far out of the crease to challenge Boychuk's shot and made the save, but the rebound popped out awkwardly to Milan Lucic, who out-muscled Jeff Schultz and knocked the puck into a wide-open net for a 2-0 Bruins edge just before 12 minutes had elapsed in the opening frame.
"We wanted to set the tone. That was the goal, our initiative to come out play a solid first five minutes and go from there," Capitals forward Matt Hendricks said. "They were able to capitalize go up 2-0 again - we're kind of used to that. It's kind of been a trend lately and we're trying to figure out ways to get around it."
Less than a minute after the second goal, Neuvirth complained of dizziness and a headache and left the game with what the team later determined was the flu. He yielded two goals on seven shots before being replaced by Semyon Varlamov, who stopped all but one of the 14 shots he faced in relief duty.
"That was the first I knew of it," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "If he wasn't feeling good we wouldn't have started him but we had no indication."
Less than eight minutes into the second period, Washington began to exhibits the signs of a team poised to shift the game's momentum. Rookie center Marcus Johansson trimmed the deficit to 2-1 when he added his first NHL goal and point with a wrist shot that beat Thomas's glove side after Chimera set him up from behind the net.
Johansson's goal would be the only one Thomas relinquished for the remainder of the game. It is only the second tally Thomas has allowed in three games this season.
Energy both on the bench and in the sellout crowd of 18,398 surged for the Capitals as they killed off several penalties, including Boston's 53-second, two-man advantage in the second period to remain perfect on the penalty kill (25 for 25) this year. Despite the shift in momentum, the Capitals couldn't finish chances to close the gap or tie the score as they fell victim to rolling pucks, broken sticks and fanned shots.
Once again it was the Bruins (3-1) who benefited as Matt Hunwick's shot, which Varlamov never saw, found its way through myriad limbs and sticks into the back of the net for a 3-1 lead just more than two minutes into the third.
"It was one of those games where we needed to get some bounces," Chimera said. "We had a couple of bad broken sticks at bad times and that happens. It's just one of those games, the bounces kind of went their way. We weren't playing that bad. We just made three mistakes and the mistakes went in our net."