The Boston Bruins’ equipment staff was in a big hurry Sunday evening to load up and get out of Verizon Center as fast as possible. The logic behind the rush was simple: The team has another critical game to play on Wednesday night.
The better reason was best explained by Bruins goalie Tim Thomas as he stood a few yards away in the visitors locker room a few minutes after his team had tied this excruciating first-round Stanley Cup playoff series at three games all with a riveting 4-3 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals.
“Every guy in the room came to play tonight,” he said with a shake of his head. “I mean, after [Saturday] we knew our backs were to the wall and we really came out and played. Every guy. You can go through the whole list.”
He paused. “All of that said, it was hard. We needed every bit of it to get out of here with a win.”
That’s why all the Bruins — whether in uniform or packing uniforms — couldn’t wait to leave. They knew they had gotten out of Dodge with seconds to spare before the posse in red and white took them out once and for all.
One could hardly blame the Bruins for saying to one another, “Who are these guys?” repeatedly on Sunday. For once, they were able to get in front early. They came out buzzing, peppering Braden Holtby with shots — tough ones, not the kind that simply run up the shots-on-goal statistics — and took their first 1-0 lead of the series on a goal by Rich Peverley 5 minutes 56 seconds into the game.
The Caps came back to make it 1-1. The Bruins went up 2-1 and had a four-minute power play after Alex Ovechkin’s high stick cut Zdeno Chara early in the second period. The Caps killed that penalty, took the momentum back and tied the score at 2 in the last minute of the second period. The Bruins went ahead again before an Ovechkin laser off a Nicklas Backstrom faceoff win tied it for a third time with 4:52 left in regulation.
“It was a roller coaster all day,” Peverley said. “That’s the way the whole series has been. That’s a very good team, a very skilled team. Nothing’s been easy for either side the whole time.”
Every time it appears one team has figured something out about the other, the tide swings the other way again.
“It’s true,” Thomas said. “It seems like whenever one team goes up a goal, the other one digs in, picks things up and ties it up. No one can get in dominant position. I guess that’s why we’re playing Game 7.”
The Bruins are accustomed to cliffhanging hockey. A year ago on their way to the Stanley Cup, they lost their first two games at home to Montreal in the opening round before coming back to win in seven games. They needed seven games to beat Tampa Bay in the conference finals and came back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 against Vancouver in the finals, winning Game 7 on the road.
That may explain why the Bruins seemed to be at their best whenever the game was even on Sunday. And why Thomas, who gave up a soft game-deciding goal to Troy Brouwer late in Game 5, played his best game of the series. He had almost no chance on all three Caps goals, notably the last one when Ovechkin suddenly became Ovechkin and blasted a shot so quickly and so hard that Thomas admitted he never saw the puck.
“We lost the faceoff and next thing I knew it was in the net,” he said. “When we came in here before overtime guys were apologizing to me. I just told them, ‘Don’t apologize. It happens. They made a play. Let’s score a goal and get out of here.’ ”
That’s what the Bruins did. Just as at the start of the game, they controlled the overtime. The winning goal by Tyler Seguin 3:17 in was their third good chance and came off a Backstrom turnover. Like Thomas on Ovechkin’s shot, Holtby had no chance. One could almost feel the entire building sag. In an instant, the Capitals went from one shot away from a stunning upset of the defending champions to another plane ride to Boston.
“It’s fitting for us” to play another Game 7, Bruins Coach Claude Julien said, doing something almost no one has been seen doing very much since this series began — smiling. “It’s been a dogfight from start to finish; late goals or overtime games. I think both teams are heading into Game 7 with the same kind of confidence. They’ve beaten us twice in our building, we’ve beaten them twice here.”
Which is why, as deflating as the ending was for the Caps, there’s little reason to believe they can’t win Game 7. “Game sevens are always grinding games,” Caps Coach Dale Hunter said. “Of course that’s what this series has been. All six games have been grinding games.”
The opportunity to end this was certainly there. The Bruins certainly knew that as they sprinted for the exits.
“In a situation like that where you know one goal can end your season, the best thing to do is to try and turn off your mind,” Thomas said. “It’s hard, but you have to block it off as best you can.”
Maybe that’s the best thing the Caps can do between now and Wednesday night: Turn off their minds. Clearly, the Bruins know how to do that. The Caps have three days to figure out that trick.
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