“Right now in this time of year, it doesn’t matter what happened — somebody get hurt, somebody didn’t have a game right — we have to find a way,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Everybody understands that. It is time for us to step up, and you can see [backup goalie Craig Anderson] come out and play solid game. He makes big saves and gives us a chance to win.”
Dowd’s deflection gave the Capitals momentum heading into Monday’s Game 2, but Vanecek’s early departure could change the complexion of the series. Anderson took over in net 13:10 into the first period and turned aside 21 of 22 shots, allowing only Nick Ritchie’s second-period goal.
“Coming into the year, I knew the situation, I knew the role that I was asked to do,” Anderson said. “Opportunity knocks, [and] you make the most of your opportunity.”
Vanecek’s lower-body injury occurred after he extended his right leg in an attempt to block Jake DeBrusk’s goal that tied the score at 1. Vanecek had a significant amount of trouble getting up. Trainers went on the ice to assist, as did Ovechkin. The rookie slowly skated off on his own but did not return. The severity of his injury is unknown.
“Obviously, we’re going to miss [Vanecek] with him coming out like that, but at the same time the guys are all looking to each other to bond together and pull together on this rope, and I’m right there with those guys, doing everything I possibly can to do my share,” Anderson said.
Vanecek — along with Anthony Mantha and Daniel Sprong — was making his Stanley Cup playoffs debut.
The score was knotted at 2 entering the third period, which developed into a taut 20 minutes that produced a handful of high-danger chances but no goals.
Saturday was Anderson’s first postseason appearance since Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals with Ottawa, a double-overtime loss to Pittsburgh.
“Tough spot, I think, to put somebody in, but Andy’s answered the bell really his whole career, [and] he’s answered it for us when we needed him,” Coach Peter Laviolette said. “He truly epitomizes the concept of working hard every day so that when you get your opportunity you’re ready, and that’s exactly what he did.”
Anderson, who turns 40 on Friday, made four appearances in the regular season for the Capitals, including two starts. Pheonix Copley, who played in the American Hockey League the past two seasons, was the emergency backup goaltender for the rest of Saturday’s game.
Washington’s goaltending issues have taken center stage all season but were more obvious with the loss of Vanecek. Ilya Samsonov, dubbed the starter to open the season, was not dressed for Saturday’s game.
Samsonov had been on the NHL’s covid-19 protocols list for the past week and a half, but he was removed Saturday. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov also did not dress Saturday; he remains on the covid-19 list. Both were added May 4, a day after they missed the team’s win at the New York Rangers because of disciplinary reasons.
Before Vanecek’s departure, the Capitals managed to take control early after heavy hits from Ovechkin and some bad luck for Boston.
Tom Wilson opened the scoring on a two-on-one rush with Oshie only 6:22 into the first period. Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy broke his stick while shooting from the right point, and Washington took advantage with a quick rush the other way. McAvoy, between Wilson and Oshie on defense, could not stop Wilson’s quick release past Rask, who finished with 29 saves.
Oshie was playing in his first game since he suffered a lower-body injury in the team’s penultimate regular season game. He was a game-time decision. He briefly went to the locker room in the first period but quickly returned. He later appeared to be hit in the head by Jeremy Lauzon, with his helmet flying off in the process, but no penalty was called. Oshie, who played as the Capitals’ third-line center, remained in the game.
After DeBrusk tied the score at 1, Brenden Dillon gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead at 8:44 of the second with his first goal in 71 career playoff games. The goal briefly was awarded to Ovechkin, who appeared to deflect Dillon’s point shot in front of the net, but it instead hit off a Bruins player’s stick and beat Rask. Ovechkin had a strong night, recording four hits and four shots on goal.
“He was engaged from the first shift, and he was physical. He was skating hard. He was trying to make plays,” Laviolette said. “You can tell with a guy like Alex that it’s playoff hockey. I mean, his gears change. He went up, and he was effective.”
Ritchie tied the score at 2 with 3:22 left in the second period after he got a piece of David Pastrnak’s point shot. The puck trickled through Anderson’s pads and over the line before Dillon swept it away.