BOSTON — The Washington Capitals’ fathers and mentors streamed down a hallway at TD Garden, offering fist bumps, handshakes and congratulations to everyone they passed.
They hardly needed an excuse to have a good time during their annual trip behind the scenes, but Saturday, the Capitals provided one anyway. With a 3-0 victory over the Boston Bruins, Washington snapped a six-game skid (0-5-1) by dominating a team that entered tied for first in the NHL.
Charlie Lindgren earned the shutout, his third of the season, by making 18 saves.
After his Capitals lost at the Florida Panthers on Thursday despite playing a strong first period and taking a pair of leads, Coach Spencer Carbery challenged them to string together more than one good period. During their skid, the Capitals found ways to play well for 20 minutes at a time — whether it was a dominant first period at Colorado on Jan. 24 in a 6-2 loss or a resurgent second period during a 5-2 defeat to Montreal on Tuesday that failed to spark a comeback — but that appeared to be all Washington could sustain.
“We’ve just got to find a way to dig in and just get another level to be able to sustain it,” Carbery said Thursday. “The first period — can you make it two? And then can you make it three?”
Washington (23-20-7) made it three against the Bruins (32-11-9), answering Carbery’s challenge.
“Our most complete game of the year — hands down, start to finish,” Carbery said. “All the different areas that we needed to be dialed in in, we were. Pace was there. Competitiveness. … We were so connected with everything that we did in all three zones. It was impressive from our group today.”
In the first period, Washington outshot the Bruins 15-4 and generated six high-danger scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. But the Capitals could not solve Jeremy Swayman (25 saves for the game), and an inability to capitalize on early scoring chances has been their undoing for much of the season.
Late in the opening period, seemingly in retaliation for a hit along the end boards, Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk speared winger Max Pacioretty, earning a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct to put the Capitals on an extended power play. They couldn’t convert before the period ended, but at 1:05 of the second, Pacioretty — who went down the tunnel after the incident but returned after intermission — found T.J. Oshie in the slot to put Washington ahead. Oshie benefited from a shot by captain Alex Ovechkin that broke Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo’s stick, giving him more space to operate.
The Capitals didn’t score again that period, but they remained in control of the run of play. After 40 minutes, the Bruins had just eight shots on goal. Washington had 23, matching its full-game total from Thursday’s loss.
In some games when the Capitals had the lead, they appeared unprepared to handle a push by the opponent in the third period. But Saturday, Washington largely remained in control, even though it had to kill three penalties in the final 20 minutes.
“We just had a solid game all around,” center Dylan Strome said. “We didn’t give them much through two periods at all. Chuckie was good when he needed to be. … It felt like tonight at least, they didn’t really have one shift that they kind of hemmed us in. That was a big thing.”
Early in the third period, Lindgren stuck out his left pad to stop a tipped shot by the Bruins’ Charlie Coyle through traffic; Lindgren could barely see the puck coming, but he made the save to keep the Capitals in front. And just seconds later, Strome curled a wrist shot under the crossbar off a feed from Ovechkin on a two-on-one at 3:24 to give Washington some breathing room. It was the first time the Capitals led by multiple goals since they beat St. Louis, 5-2, on Jan. 18 — the last victory before the six-game skid.
“I saw a guy kind of flashing in front of me. I don’t know if it hit off his stick or his knee or whatever it was — more of a positional save there,” Lindgren said. “[Ovechkin] made a really good pass to Stromer, and he finished it off. That was a big goal at a big time.”
Pacioretty, defenseman John Carlson and Ovechkin found their way to the penalty box in the final 11:30. Ovechkin’s minor for hooking came with just 2:56 to play, and that prompted the Bruins to pull Swayman for a six-on-four advantage — but they still couldn’t break through.
Boston’s goal remained vacant after the penalty ended, and Ovechkin hit the empty net to extend his goal streak to four games, become the NHL’s all-time leader in empty-net goals (57) and seal a victory the Capitals desperately needed, much to the relief of the players and their mentors.
On Sunday afternoon, Washington will host the Vancouver Canucks (34-12-6), who came into Saturday tied with the Bruins atop the NHL. The Capitals know how tough the challenge ahead is, but after winning for the first time in more than three weeks, it may be just a little less daunting.
“I’ll just tell you what: As a goalie, it was so much fun to watch the guys in front of me work tonight,” Lindgren said. “This win tonight, this shutout, all the credit in the world goes to the guys in front of me. I thought the effort, right from the drop of the puck, start to finish, was incredible.
“If we play that way, we’re a playoff hockey team. There’s no doubt about it.”