For a brief while, it looked like Game 3 between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins on Monday night would mimic Games 1 and 2 by heading to at least one overtime period.
That thought crossed many minds at the Verizon Center after Brooks Laich got behind the Bruins' defense and converted on a breakaway with six minutes to go tie the game at 3.
But one inadvertent tip of a Zdeno Chara point shot by Capitals defenseman Roman Hamrlik with less than two minutes to play stopped Caps fans in their tracks. There would be no overtime on this night, as the Bruins hung on for a 4-3 win. The victory gave them a 2-1 series lead and took back home-ice advantage.
The winning goal came during 4-on-4 play. Chara wound up from the right point and one-timed a pass from Patrice Bergeron on goal. As goalie Braden Holtby dropped down to make the save, the puck ricocheted off of Hamrlik's stick in front. Had it been a Bruins' player's stick, it would have been a perfect deflection up and over a surprised Holtby. But instead it was off Hamrlik's stick, and that unlucky bounce was all she wrote for Washington's chances.
Unlike the stinginess of Games 1 and 2, Game 3 felt like an offensive explosion, as both teams finally found their scoring touch.
Alex Semin, Alex Ovechkin and Laich each scored their first goals of the postseason. Usually when two of those three score in the same game, the Caps are well on their way to victory. But that wasn't the case on this night.
The Capitals got on the board first in the opening frame with a power-play goal by Semin. The enigmatic winger got high marks in the first two games of the series for his hustle and willingness to block shots, but he finally got his first tally with a wrister from the high slot that found its way past a screened Tim Thomas.
That lead was erased early in the second period when Rich Peverley scored a 4-on-4 goal that was misplayed by Holtby.
But Ovechkin roared right back, scoring 13 seconds later thanks to a nifty lead pass by Laich. Ovi's centerman lifted a puck softly into the Bruins' zone so Ovechkin could chase. He lined up the spinning biscuit, wound up and let it fly. Dennis Seidenberg got his stick in the way, but only deflected it enough for it to dip on Thomas, and the puck found a way into the net between his glove and left pad.
That 2-1 lead only lasted for another nine minutes until Daniel Paille knotted it up yet again. Greg Zanon whipped a quick writer from the point when he saw Paille alone behind the Caps' defense. Paille deflected the shot, which meant Holtby couldn't control the rebound, which Paille corralled and backhanded past the netminder before a defenseman could knock him down.
Boston finally grabbed a lead early in the third period. There was a mad scramble in front of the Caps' net after a Chara shot from the point. Holtby couldn't glove it, and eventually Laich tried to chip it out of the zone. The puck only got as far as the blue line, and it was thrown right back on net. The shot was tipped by Brian Rolston on the way to Holtby, which led to another rebound that Rolston poked into the net.
That lead lasted for most of the period until Laich took advantage of a defensive lapse and a beauty of a pass from Nicklas Backstrom.
Laich caught Chara and Seidenberg napping and found some open ice behind them. Backstrom spotted him alone and launched a long bank pass off the boards in front of the benches. Laich took the pass, skated hard into the B's zone and fended off Chara's stick as he pulled the puck from his backhand to forehand and fired a shot off the left post and in.
And there was much rejoicing.
However, the joy didn't last as the Bruins capped off the scoring a few minutes later. Backstrom added some more drama in the final seconds when he put a cross-check to the face of Peverley behind the Caps' goal while sticking up for Ovechkin. Peverley tripped up Ovechkin as the final horn blew, and Backstrom came to his teammate's defense. The problem -- that cross-check to the chops earned him a match penalty from the ref. That automatically comes with a game suspension, but the league could step in and reinstate him for Game 4. A meeting with the league will more than likely be in order on Tuesday to determine next steps.
In the meantime, the Caps will have to look for some new answers for Game 4, which will be played at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Phone Booth. The Bruins finally got some of the ever-popular net-front presence that all teams look for in the NHL these days. It had a big effect on Holtby, who wasn't able to control all of the rebounds like he wanted to. And that led directly to several of Monday night's goals against.
"Both teams were going to the net hard with screens and tips," coach Dale Hunter said. "Coaches preach it."