By Stephen Whyno
WASHINGTON (AP) — Moments after embracing former Boston captain Zdeno Chara in the handshake line, Patrice Bergeron acknowledged he hadn’t thought much about what was different about winning his first series with the “C” on his chest.
For Bergeron and the Bruins, it was just another step forward.
“We’re a team where it feels special to win together, everyone chipping in and contributing,” he said. “I’m just happy we got the win and we finished it off and we can look forward and move on to round two.”
They’re moving on to face either the Pittsburgh Penguins or New York Islanders after steamrolling the Washington Capitals in five games. Three went to overtime, including Boston’s only loss in the series opener, but as the games went on it was clear which team was superior.
“Game by game we got better,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask, who stopped 159 of 169 shots. “We had everybody going, which was huge. Everybody contributed, offensively, defensively. We did a lot of little things right. I think that probably ended up being the difference. We were just a better team all around.”
It didn’t use to be that way between the Bruins and Capitals. Washington won 14 in a row against Boston from 2014-19 but bowed out in the first round for the third consecutive year since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018.
The Bruins, who came within one victory in Game 7 against St. Louis from hoisting the Cup in 2019, have shown an ability to tweak and change enough to remain a perennial championship contender. After letting Chara and Torey Krug leave in free agency, Boston advanced further than either of them, despite injuries on defense that tested the organization’s depth.
Credit Bergeron for much of that. Not only did he score twice in the series clincher, but provided the necessary leadership for a group that looks far different from trips to the final in 2013 or 2019, let alone Boston’s Cup team in 2011.
“This is his first year with the ‘C’ on (his jersey), so he wants to sort of put his signature on this club,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I’m sure he’s digging a little bit deeper if that’s even possible for him. I think he’s a guy that shows up every night and gives it everything he’s got.”
NEXT TEAM UP
Cassidy said the Bruins will “watch with interest” as the Penguins and Islanders claw out the remainder of their East Division first-round series. Because of all divisional play this postseason, there’s no complicated seeding math needed to determine who Boston will face next — just when the next series starts.
Pittsburgh and New York are tied at two games apiece. The earliest the season can end is Wednesday, so there’s time to kill.
“You play the hand you’re dealt,” Cassidy said. “You always want to close out series as quickly as you can. It just takes away any stress and any possibility of losing, obviously, and guys get to rest up a little bit, so I’m OK with it.”
One reason the time off could be good for Boston is the opportunity to get injured defensemen Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril back at some point. Zboril has been out for two weeks, and Lauzon injured his right hand in Game 1.
General manager Don Sweeney said Monday that while Kevan Miller is still in the recovery process after a high hit from Washington’s Dmitry Orlov on Friday, there’s hope that Lauzon and Zboril can play in the second round. The Bruins counted on midseason waiver pickup Jarred Tinordi to step in for the series clincher.
That obviously wasn’t the plan when Krug left for St. Louis and Chara signed with Washington when the Bruins brass told him he wasn’t guaranteed a regular role. Defenseman Steven Kampfer won’t be available, either, after hand surgery, so Cassidy and his staff could have to get creative for at least the start of the next series.
BEATING THE CAPS
After losing Game 1 in overtime on a deflection goal, the Bruins made a few adjustments to take over the series. They began cracking the Capitals’ neutral zone pressure and exploited a man-to-man defensive system.
Nowhere was that clearer than on Pastrnak’s highlight-reel goal in Game 5, when he cut to the net unbothered and slid the puck past goaltender Ilya Samsonov. It was a combination of film study and skill that made the play happen.
“I was definitely surprised,” Pastrnak said. “I just saw a kind of free lane to take it to the net. Tried it and it worked this time.”
And the Bruins made a concerted effort to leverage their skill against a big, heavy opponent. They couldn’t beat up the Capitals, but they beat them by dictating the style of game that was played.
“That’s what we talked about against a big team: getting inside, and then using your speed to separate,” Cassidy said. “They’ve got some long D, but if you get on your horse and are willing to attack and separate and use your 1-on-1 skills, you’ll get a few looks. We did, and we were able to finish them.”