By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Capitals came out on Saturday night with a clear and direct plan: Punch the Bruins right in the mouth. Again and again. And then some more.
Now, the Bruins have a full understanding of what they’re up against in this series. It’s up to them to figure out how to respond after a Game 1 that saw them get hit all over the ice. They’ll also need to find a way to combat a defense that absolutely smothered them, making life all too easy for the soon-to-be-40-year-old Craig Anderson, who was playing in just his fifth game in 15 months. (Yikes!)
Here are some quick-hitters on what the Bruins will need to do to earn a split of the first two games in Washington.
–Challenge. The. Goalie.
Craig Anderson made 21 saves on Saturday night. Outside of the time that he dislodged the net to kill what was perhaps the best Bruins scoring chance of the night, do you remember a single one?
It was far too easy of a night for a guy who was thrust into major duty after facing a grand total of 71 shots all year. (And a guy who posted an ugly .901 save percentage in the three years prior.)
The Bruins can be forgiven for perhaps not studying the book on Anderson prior to Game 1. But one would hope that with a couple of days between games, the coaching staff has identified some weaknesses in Anderson’s game from recent seasons. Whether that’s lateral movement, tracking pucks through screens (that is how Boston got one past him on Saturday), rebound control, or anything else, I would anticipate a more strategic attack if Anderson remains the Capitals’ netminder in Game 2.
Ilya Samsonov is off the COVID list, so he could make the start. But that would be a similar situation. He hasn’t played since May 1, and he finished the year with a grisly .886 save percentage in his final nine games. The Bruins scored five goals on 39 shots against him in the regular season, so the message would be the same if Peter Laviolette goes with Samsonov.
–Follow Taylor Hall’s lead.
It’s kind of funny, but the guy with 14 total games of playoff history was the one who looked most ready for Game 1.
That makes sense. Hall has been re-energized and intently focused on playing great hockey. And on Saturday night, he played like a bat out of hell.
His speed and tenacity on the puck was noticeable, as his zone entries put some incredible pressure on Washington’s defense. Twice, he drew penalties after entering the Washington zone with speed.
While nobody on the roster can exactly emulate Hall’s game, they should take notice of his spirit and energy. This is the playoffs after all.
–Get more from Brad Marchand.
On a similar note … the Bruins didn’t exactly get a Hart-level performance from Brad Marchand in Game 1. He landed just one shot on goal … from 62 feet out. He missed with two shots, had some sloppy breakout passes, and overall wasn’t impactful.
Bruce Cassidy said, “I don’t worry about Brad too often.” And rightfully so. He’s pretty good. The Bruins would probably like to see that ASAP, though.
“With March, like I said, I’m not worried,” Cassidy said. “He’ll be better and get that line going. He should be fine.”
–Counter the aggressive play.
The physical play on Saturday night was a bit one-sided, to say the least. The official hits statistic said it was only a 51-41 advantage for the home team, but the video tells a different story. The Capitals took the ice looking to deliver some pain.
The natural reaction would be to say that the Bruins should counter that physicality by matching that physicality. But … that’s not really in their DNA. They certainly have some sturdy players on the roster, but they aren’t the “Big, Bad Bruins,” and they haven’t been for a while.
What may actually be possible is countering those big hits with instant offense. If Alex Ovechkin is rumbling down the tracks deep in the Boston end, the puck has to be moving the other way before the hit is delivered. If a D-man steps up to try to stop a breakout with a hit along the boards, perhaps a chip into the neutral zone creates an odd-man rush. It’s an easy suggestion to make from afar, but taking advantage of an overly physical Capitals team could lead to instant offense with the right play.
–Don’t worry about the goalie.
This is Boston, so every loss becomes a referendum on Tuukka Rask as a player and a person. But the Bruins certainly aren’t wasting even a second worrying about Rask after Game 1.
All three goals allowed came on tipped shots, two of which were deflected off Boston sticks. The first opportunity never would have come about if not for an exploding Charlie McAvoy stick, and the Bruins — and Rask — actually recovered decently on that one. Tom Wilson’s shot just hit off Matt Grzelcyk’s stick, elevating it over Rask’s shoulders.
Outside of one stretch in the third, when Rask had to turn aside five shots in a two-minute span, the defense did a good job of limiting Washington’s potent attack. Rask faced just four shots from the high danger area, and he stopped three of them.
It was a good defensive game for Boston, even if the scoreboard didn’t wholly reflect that.