Wednesday, April 10

Capitals scramble, punch back against Bruins for third straight win

Capitals coach Peter Laviolette has been around the NHL long enough to understand that matinee games come with a challenge. They’re not your average day, he says. That’s especially true on the second of back-to-back contests, like the one Washington had Sunday against the Boston Bruins. 

“It’s like you’re eatng scrambled eggs and then you’ve got to be willing to punch somebody in the nose,” Laviolette said. 

Despite the 1:30 p.m. start time, the Capitals came ready to fight, withstood a few blows and ultimately pulled out a 4-2 victory over the Bruins. The win marked Washington’s third straight as the Capitals look to round into playoff form with now only 10 games left in the season. 

Lars Eller delivered the go-ahead — and ultimately game-winning — goal for the Capitals 7:18 into the third period when he shot a puck that bounced off Erik Haula’s skate and into Boston’s net. Eller, too, was playing a line higher Sunday because Nicklas Backstrom was held out with body maintenance. 

Eller’s goal was part of an aggressive stretch for Washington, which drew two penalties in the third and kept up the pressure to stave off a Boston comeback. 

With the playoffs inching closer, the Capitals still have questions to answer ahead of the postseason. Primarily, who will be the team’s starting goaltender? Laviolette has been open about his desire for someone to seize the job, but he re-opened the competition this month after Vanecek began struggling after the trade deadline. Prior to facing the Bruins, Vanecek had just a 1-3 record with an .862 save percentage since March 21 — when the Capitals elected against adding another netminder at the deadline. 

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That opened the door for Ilya Samsonov, who started Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. In that performance, the Russian was a mess early — all three Pittsburgh goals came in the first — but Laviolette praised the way Samsonov responded for the rest of the contest.

Against the Bruins, Vanecek did what Samsonov failed to do the day prior: Vanecek started strong. The 26-year-old came up big in key moments, like when he blocked Charlie McAvoy’s shot in front of the net despite temporarily losing his stick or when he quickly slid to his right to erase Brad Marchand’s shot. 

But Vanecek stumbled as the game progressed. After the Capitals had grabbed momentum thanks to a John Carlson goal, Washington gave it right back when Bruins winger Curtis Lazar tapped one in after Nick Foligno drew Vanecek outside the net. The goal tied the game at 1 with 12:05 left in the period, and the Bruins again scored just minutes later. 

On the second goal, McAvoy recovered a careless pass from the Capitals and dished it off to a streaking Erik Haula — who rocketed it past Vanecek.  The turnover, of course, did not help matters, but so much of a team’s playoff success can depend on whether their goaltender can bail them out of bad situations. 

The Capitals, though, were able to rally because of contributions on the offensive end. Creating traffic in front of the net, winger Tom Wilson was in a perfect position to knock in the rebound of Lars Eller’s shot that bounced off Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark. Wilson corraled the puck and snuck it through Ullmark’s legs for the score.

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The goal was the latest contribution from Wilson, who notched his 23rd goal of the season — a career high. Ten of those have come in Wilson’s last 25 games. 

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