The Boston Bruins won a hard-fought battle against the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of the First Round on Wednesday night, with Craig Smith scoring the game-winner in the second overtime period. Boston now leads the series 2-1, with a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead at home on Friday night.
Unsurprisingly, this series has consisted of hard-hitting, physical hockey. We knew from their regular-season bouts that this was Washington’s calling card, and the Bruins were not adverse to playing a similar style. However, through the first two games, the Caps had the clear advantage in this facet of the game. Despite Boston’s win in Game 2, it still seemed like Washington had the momentum. They looked more engaged from shift to shift, especially the fourth line.
In Game 3, the Bruins fired back, shifting the momentum firmly in their favor. The Capitals still played their game, but Boston adjusted and gave them a taste of their own medicine. As the game dragged on into the overtime periods, the Bruins gained the upper hand on the boards and in the battles for loose pucks. This proved to be the difference in the end, as Smith remained vigilant on the forecheck and caught the Capitals off guard.
Bruins Go Head Hunting
While Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, and Garnet Hathaway imposed their will on their opponents in the first two games, the Bruins took the hitting to the next level on Wednesday. Looking up and down the game’s box score, the trend becomes clear: Boston’s big bodies came to play.
Nick Ritchie, Sean Kuraly, Charlie Coyle, and Curtis Lazar all had at least five hits each. Chris Wagner had four, but he seemed to be more active on the boards than anyone. This is what Boston needs from the bottom six. While the top two lines rely on finesse, the third and fourth liners can use their grit and physicality to significantly impact the game.
Some blue liners got their hands dirty as well. Brandon Carlo, the biggest player on the team at 6-foot-5, registered five hits and played a huge role on the penalty kill. Charlie McAvoy and Kevan Miller also did their share.
We’ve said from the beginning that the Bruins needed to be the more physical team in this series, or else they stood no chance. They earned their Game 3 win by doing just that – dominating on the boards and returning every Capitals’ hit with an even bigger hit of their own.
Conditioning Wins Playoff Games
In order to keep hitting and winning loose pucks, a high level of energy and conditioning is required. Boston is among the best in the league in this aspect of the game, as they have an elite group of two-way forwards who play the game well from end to end.
While Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand get most of the recognition in this department, the second line of Smith, David Krejci, and Taylor Hall also deserves its due credit. Their scoring has overshadowed their efforts on the other end. All three are extremely adept skaters, which allows them to apply constant pressure.
For this reason, it’s quite fitting that Smith scored the game-winner. He has one of the highest motors in the NHL. He is absolutely relentless, just a notch below Bergeron and Marchand in the forechecking department. Head coach Bruce Cassidy made sure to acknowledge Smith’s efforts in his postgame presser.
He’s a high-energy guy. (The second line) stuck with it, they kept playing. You know, they’re a good defensive line as well… good for him to get in on a puck. You don’t expect those, but if you keep playing behind their D and forcing to break pucks out, you will get some breaks. He stayed on it, and good for him to have the recognition to stuff it.Bruce Cassidy Postgame Interview | Bruins vs. Capitals Game 3 – Bruins Rinkside
The conditioning advantage became abundantly clear in the overtime periods, which the Bruins dominated from start to finish – outshooting the Caps 19 to eight. Washington lost a step, and Boston’s forwards wore their defense down until they made a fatal mistake. The home team was able to keep the tempo high because of their work that we don’t see – the wind sprints, the hours in the weight room, and the high-energy practices.
Bruins Have Found Winning Formula
After a tightly-contested 60 minutes of regulation, the Bruins buckled down and found their game in overtime. All of the things that made the difference in Game 3 – hitting, puck control, conditioning – are what the Bruins must carry into the rest of the series. These facets of the game will become increasingly important as the playoffs wear on.
First, they must win two more games against the Capitals. The 2018 champs won’t go away quietly, but Boston has a chance to take a comfortable 3-1 series lead at TD Garden on Friday before going back on the road.
I cover the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Fan of all things New England sports.