Haunted by Holtby: Capitals blank Bruins

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If the Boston Bruins miss the playoffs – a far stronger possibility after tonight – they may pin it to their troubles against one team (the Washington Capitals) and one goalie (Braden Holtby).

Holtby and the Capitals blanked them 3-0 on Wednesday night, sweeping the season series and greatly improving the playoff odds for the Ottawa Senators and the Bruins’ other East bubble opponents.

A game like this can make it easy for people to forget that Boston came into this contest on a five-game winning streak. That’s especially true since the Bruins went out with a whimper, only firing five shots on goal in the third period.

It seemed like Marcus Johansson’s 3-0 goal really deflated Boston, as the B’s had some nice chances before that dagger:

One wouldn’t be surprised if the Bruins thought “there’s no way we can get three or more goals against Holtby,” even if it was subconscious. The 25-year-old goalie stopped all 88 shots he faced from Boston in 2014-15 as Washington beat Boston by a combined score of 9-0.

Holtby’s dominance of Boston is rare, to say the least:

Here’s a simplified version of what the East postseason race looks like right now:

This Claude Julien GIF might just capture how the entire Bruins team (and fan base) feels at the moment:

The Bruins turn around to face the Panthers in Florida tomorrow before closing out their season with a road game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Those games are that much bigger after this humbling loss … but at least they won’t face Holtby.

Video: Capitals capitalize on Bruins’ slow start

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The Boston Bruins have a ton on the line right now, but you wouldn’t know it from how they started against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.

Washington grabbed two goals from defensemen within the first 7:06 of game time before Boston started to show a little more life. As of this writing, it’s still a 2-0 advantage for the Capitals.

John Carlson started things off with his 12th goal of 2014-15, adding to career-highs for goals and points:

A little more than two minutes later, Matt Niskanen took advantage of Nicklas Backstrom’s second assist to get his fourth goal of the season:

While Washington aims for a round of home-ice advantage, they likely have some fans in Detroit and Ottawa tonight. So far, those three groups are happy.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Capitals

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Wednesday represents an important game for both the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, but there’s no doubt that Boston has more on the line.

While they’re in a solid position to lock up a playoff spot by the end of this week, they don’t share Washington’s luxury of already having a postseason berth clinched. They need to take advantage of their game-in-hand advantage on the Ottawa Senators and possibly leapfrog the Detroit Red Wings in the process. Meanwhile, home-ice for a round is the biggest dangling carrot for Washington.

Well, that and spite.

The Capitals host the Bruins on NBCSN. You can also check it out by streaming the game via NBC Sports Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Check out a deeper preview here.

Bruins don’t want to ‘rely on the last game’ to make the playoffs

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And so it comes down to the last three games — all on the road — for the Boston Bruins to clinch a spot in the playoffs.

Chances are, they’ll get the job done. Two wins would do it. Even just one could be good enough. They already deserve some credit, heading into tonight’s contest in D.C. having won five in a row.

That being said, there are easier ways to try and clinch than with three away games in four days: tonight at Washington, tomorrow at Florida, and Saturday at Tampa Bay. Two of those teams are headed to the playoffs. The other was close, and will be rested.

“We don’t have an easy schedule,” coach Claude Julien conceded, per CSN New England. “We have a game against Washington and we know what that represents, but it’s also a late game with a late arrival in Florida the next day.

“So we really need to take care of business early on, and try and take as many of those points as we can to not have to rely on the last game.”

It’s been quite the year for this Boston team. Even without Jarome Iginla and Johnny Boychuk, it wasn’t supposed to be this hard. The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy last season; they finished with a 27-point cushion. Their cushion now, over the Ottawa Senators, is zero points and one game in hand.

“This is why you play hockey,” said forward Chris Kelly, choosing to focus on the positives. “You don’t play to play in meaningless hockey games. You play to have purpose, and there’s nothing better than playing 82 games that have purpose. Every year is a different situation.”

NHL on NBCSN: Fighting for playoffs spot, Bruins hope third time’s the charm vs. Caps

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign tonight with a doubleheader. The first of the two contests will feature the Washington Capitals hosting the Boston Bruins, with the puck scheduled to drop at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

Boston has won five straight games to keep itself in the playoff race, but with the Ottawa Senators’ surge continuing, it hasn’t been enough to secure a postseason berth for the Bruins.

A loss against the Washington Capitals tonight won’t push the Bruins out of the playoff picture, but it would make the margin of error for Boston significantly smaller in its final two contests against Florida and Tampa Bay. Maintaining the winning streak will be tough for the Bruins against the similarly hot Capitals, but Boston at least caught a bit of a break during Tuesday’s practice.

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Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was back on the ice after being held off on Monday. He had been labeled as day-to-day, but Bruins coach Claude Julien now seems optimistic about Chara’s chances of being available for tonight’s game.

That would certainly be a boost, although it might not be enough. Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has already earned two shutouts against Boston this season. Washington forward Nicklas Backstrom has also been a thorn in the Bruins’ side with four points over those two games.

“We’re not here certainly feeling overconfident,” said Julien, per the team’s website. “Because we still haven’t scored on them yet in two games, so we need to be better there tomorrow and find a way to get past their goaltender.”

Perhaps Ryan Spooner will ultimately be the one to solve Washington. Since being called up on Feb. 21, Spooner has been a key forward for Boston with eight goals and 18 points in 21 games. If not for his efforts, Boston might not be in a playoff position going into today’s action.

“We talk about bringing some young legs in, we talk about speed, we talk about skill — (Spooner’s) been able to bring that,” Julien said. “When he was here the first few times, he just brought portions of that. Now, he’s brought it all, and it’s made a big difference in his game. It’s made a big difference in our game.”

Washington has already secured a postseason berth, but the Capitals still need these two points. As things currently stand, it looks like they’ll be in for a tough battle against the New York Islanders in the first round. What remains to be seen is which team will have the home-ice advantage in that series and a win tonight would certainly help Washington as it tries to clinch the second seed in the Metropolitan Division.