Although the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals have been among the NHL’s elite for over the past dozen years, they have only met in the playoffs once during that time frame, and just three times overall in the 47 years since the Capitals entered the league in 1974.
The three Bruins-Capitals playoff series have been notable for different reasons, with Washington winning the last two series in dramatic fashion, capped with overtime-winners in the decisive game on Boston ice. Two of those series winners went on to the Stanley Cup Final, the other lost in a tight Game 7 the next round.
Every year, Washington featured a coach in his first season with the club, as Terry Murray and Dale Hunter took over midseason in 1990 and 2012, respectively, while Ron Wilson was hired before the 1997-98 season — not unlike Peter Laviolette taking over before this campaign.
We’ll recap some of the previous Boston-Washington tilts below:
1990 Wales Conference Final: Boston 4, Washington 0
For Washington, 1990 was the year they finally broke through the Patrick Division wall, ending years of playoff failure against its rivals with John Druce earning the franchise its only divisional playoff title in overtime against the New York Rangers in Game 5.
Boston was the league’s top regular-season team in 1989-90, the only one to pass 100 points and after surviving a seven-game series with the Hartford Whalers, the Bruins rolled past their nemesis in the Montreal Canadiens in five to earn a date with Washington.
While the Capitals were coming off a playoff high with the win over the Rangers, it came at a high price. Dino Ciccarelli, the team’s top regular-season scorer with 41 goals, was out after an injury in the New York series, and that victory took a lot out of the Caps, as a number of key players were missing or banged up. Druce, who scored 12 goals in 11 games in the playoffs in the first two rounds, was only able to score a pair against Boston, as the Bruins were able to stifle Washington in Boston’s first four-game sweep since 1979.
On the heels of their overtime win at Madison Square Garden, the Capitals came out strong in Game 1 at Boston Garden, taking a 3-2 lead into the third period thanks to goals by Druce, John Tucker and Kelly Miller. But the Bruins took over in the third period and never really looked back in the series, scoring three times for a 5-3 win. Andy Moog delivered a 28-save shutout of the Capitals in Game 2, with former Washington star Bobby Carpenter delivering the game-winner for his hometown team.
The Capital Centre hosted what turned out to be the most important NHL playoff games in the building’s history for Game 3 of the Wales Final, but the return to home ice couldn’t save the Capitals. After Druce negated an early Boston lead late in the second, Craig Janney broke a 1-1 tie with 1:52 left in the period, and the Bruins broke the game open with two more in the third for a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
Boston completed the sweep, scoring two in the first and holding off goals by Nick Kypreos and Dale Hunter for a 3-2 win, with Cam Neely’s goal 2:08 into the third being the eventual series-winner. (from ‘Bruins Check Caps, Go to Cup Finals,’ Washington Post, 05/10/1990) The Bruins were presented the Wales Trophy in the hallways in Landover, and went on to face the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final.
Washington’s offense sputtered without Ciccarelli and scored only six goals in four games, two by Druce. Boston went on to lose the Cup Final in five games to Edmonton, and didn’t return to the game’s final stage until winning the Cup in 2011. Washington underwent a series of rebuilds that following offseason, losing Scott Stevens to the St. Louis Blues in an offer sheet, and didn’t go back to the Conference Final for eight years.
1998 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal: Washington 4, Boston 2
The Capitals and Bruins were separated by just one point in the 1997-98 standings, with Washington earning home ice as the fourth seed thanks to that extra point. In the first-ever playoff game held at MCI Center, Brian Bellows, acquired at the trade deadline by Washington, scored the first goal of the series and the building’s postseason history to give the Capitals a Game 1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish, as Olaf Kolzig stopped 27 of 28 Boston shots in a 3-1 decision.
Washington jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 2, thanks to goals by Esa Tikkanen and Calle Johansson, but the Bruins scored three in the third to take a 3-2 lead into the game’s final minute. Sergei Gonchar scored the equalizer for the Capitals with Kolzig off for an extra skater to force an extra session, but after a scoreless overtime period, Darren Van Impe scored on Kolzig for the series equalizer :54 into the second overtime.
With the series shifting to Boston, Washington again lost a 2-0 lead — both on goals by Gonchar — as ex-Cap Dmitri Khristich scored with 9:01 left in regulation to force overtime. The Bruins appeared to score the game-winner in overtime to take a series lead, but P.J. Axelsson’s tally was wiped out thanks to Tim Taylor’s skate being in the crease, and Washington took advantage, taking the series lead thanks to ex-Bruin Joe Juneau burying another former Boston star in Adam Oates’ feed in double overtime for a 3-2 win. (from ‘NHL RULE IS A CASE OF CREASE AND DESIST,’ Washington Post, 04/27/1998)
Washington took control of the series with a 3-0 win in Game 4, with Oates scoring a pair of goals in the game’s first 23 minutes and Kolzig turning away all 38 shots he faced. Boston turned the tables on Washington in Game 5, with former Capital Byron Dafoe shutting out Washington with 26 saves, as the Capitals missed a chance to clinch the series at home, as the Bruins scored three in the second for a 4-0 win.
Game 6 also required overtime after former Cap Anson Carter forced the extra session with a goal with 10:47 left in regulation. The Capitals scored in overtime to take the game and series, as Bellows scored his second of the series 15:24 into the extra session for Washington’s first playoff series win since 1994 with a 3-2 win. (from ‘WITH WINNING GOAL, BELLOWS FINISHES WHAT HE STARTED, Washington Post, 05/04/1998)
The Capitals used that first-round win as a springboard for an extended playoff run, beating the Ottawa Senators in five games in the second round and then ousting the Buffalo Sabres in six for the team’s first Eastern Conference title. Washington bowed to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final, and didn’t return to the Final until winning the Cup 20 years later. The Bruins didn’t see much playoff success after the 1998 loss, winning just three series in the next dozen years, but finally broke through in 2011 to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title since 1972.
2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal: Washington 4, Boston 3
Boston entered the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the defending Stanley Cup champion and second seed due to winning the Northeast Division, while Washington was seventh in the East in a year that saw Dale Hunter take over as coach from Bruce Boudreau, who was fired in November after the Caps had struggled following some dominant seasons. The Bruins finished 10 points ahead of the Capitals in the standings, and were heavy favorites with young goaltender Braden Holtby having to play for the Capitals with Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth out with injuries, and facing 2011 Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas in Boston’s net.
The two teams opened up the series with a defensive affair, and Holtby and Thomas delivered shutouts in regulation in a game that saw just 45 shots in the first 60 minutes. Chris Kelly finally broke through for Boston to give the Bruins a 1-0 series lead. The two again battled in a low-scoring affair in Game 2, with Troy Brouwer’s first-period goal negated by Benoit Pouliot’s goal with 7:47 left in regulation. This time in overtime, Washington had the goal, as Nicklas Backstrom scored to give the Caps a 2-1 overtime win, and a 1-1 series tie.
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Boston regained the series lead in Washington, as Zdeno Chara broke a 3-3 tie late in a back-and-forth affair that saw seven different players score their first goals of the postseason. Washington squared the series again with a 2-1 win in Game 4, as Holtby came up with 44 saves and Alexander Semin scored the eventual game-winner late in the second period. The Capitals pushed Boston to the brink in Game 5 in Boston, as Brouwer’s second goal of the series with just 1:27 left in regulation proved to be the game-winner and Holtby again was solid with 34 saves in a 4-3 win. However, the Bruins stayed alive to force a Game 7 in Washington, as Tyler Seguin staved off Boston’s elimination with an overtime goal in a 4-3 Bruins win — this time Thomas was outstanding with 36 saves.
Game 7 proved to be a memorable one in Capitals history, as the two teams returned to the tight-checking style seen early in the series. Matt Hendricks put Washington up 1-0 in the first, but Seguin tied the score in the second. As the tension mounted with the series hanging in the balance, both goaltenders played well to keep their teams tied, and the game turned into the third Game 7 overtime in Washington franchise history — first away from home.
Unlike the previous two Game 7 overtimes for Washington, this was a relatively quick affair, lasting just 2:57, as Joel Ward scored for Washington as Mike Knuble crashed the Boston net and Ward knocked the rebound past Thomas. The Capitals ousted the defending champs in a seven-game overtime thriller.
Washington battled the Rangers in a tight-checking series the next round, but fell in Game 7 despite another solid series by Holtby. The Bruins rebounded from their loss to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three years in a lockout-shortened 2013 season, but this time Boston came up on the losing end to the Chicago Blackhawks.
2021: East Division Semifinal: Washington (2) vs. Boston (3)
This year, the Capitals and Bruins are separated by just four points in the standings, thanks to a temporary alignment that sees two of the last three Eastern Conference champions meeting in the first round. Both teams have been offset this year with injuries and adversity, but both have also shown capable of being able to make a deep run this spring.
The major subplot is Chara, the former Bruins captain, is now on Washington’s roster due to Boston taking a step towards youth on the blue line, and also Tom Wilson’s hit on Brandon Carlo in March creating a nasty rivalry in an eight-game series that saw the Capitals go 4-4 against Boston. Just three Capitals remain on the team from that 2012 Game 7 lineup — Backstrom, John Carlson and Ovechkin, although Chara was on the ice for Boston in that contest. For the Bruins, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand remain from the 18 skaters in the contest, and Tuukka Rask, who missed the first five games of the 2012 series with an injury, backed up Thomas in Games 6 and 7.
If it’s anything like the previous three, it will contain more intrigue, some drama and perhaps some overtime, and will be a memorable one.
Author of a pair of Washington Capitals books, Transition Game and Red Rising, as well as a book on the American Hockey League, Chasing the Dream. Covered the Capitals and the NHL for the Washington Times, AOL Sports, Sporting News, SB Nation, Newsday, Tampa Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.