Audiences have witnessed the Boston Bruins' capability to win close, low-scoring games -- especially in the playoffs -- and they ended up seeing it yet again in a 1-0 Game 1 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals.
Though both teams played cautious hockey at times while matching each other up, the true uncertainty came from the Caps' camp entering the contest thanks to shaky defense and unexperienced goaltending.
Braden Holtby played a solid game while facing 30 shots on net, his only mistake coming in sudden death. He did his part in answering questions surrounding the Capitals' goaltending situation and did a good job of holding the score so low. But while goaltending and, for the most part, the offense (when able to break through) did well against the Cup champs, the defense did not instill as much confidence -- aside from a shutdown pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson.
Carlson, who really stood out Thursday night, received much criticism through the regular season in just his second NHL year. The coaching change early in the season came while Carlson was also adjusting his game to a slightly more stay-at-home style, and by the end of the year, Carlson seemed to have settled a little bit more in his new role. It showed in Game 1, especially with the miscues from his fellow blueliners.
Dubbed the potential "x-factor" by many, Mike Green has certainly not risen to the occasion. His biggest blunder came in the second period, turning a puck over that pinballed in front of a few Bruins players. With everyone out of position after Green's turnover, Holtby was almost forced to take matters into his own hands and clear the B's from his crease. Unfortunately for Washington, that resulted in a roughing penalty and Holtby temporarily losing his composure. The Caps were able to kill the Boston power play, but it wasn't without a few scary moments.
Aside from Green's continued underachievement, the guy who was selected to be the No. 2 defenseman in the lineup, Dennis Wideman, was not much better. In fact, Wideman literally cost the Caps the game with a complete misread of Chris Kelly's zone entry in overtime.
With Wideman in so tight to Kelly despite all the open ice around him, Kelly's shot caught Holtby slightly out of position to bag the game-winner. As a result, the Caps are in a 1-0 hole in the series.
Neither Green nor Wideman had much impact on the game offensively. It might be possible that with Carlson's offensive potential that, if paired properly, he could have a bit more offensive freedom when the game is in Washington's favor and provide more of a boost on the attack along with the other expected scorers.
If Wideman and Green don't pick up their game, it might be of good use for Caps coach Dale Hunter to use Carlson a bit more liberally. From the looks of Game 1, this series might be a defensively tight one -- the type of series the Bruins are quite capable of winning. The way Carlson responded, protected the crease, and stood up for Holtby against Milan Lucic might be just what the Caps need to have a little more confidence in front of their young goaltender and in facing a Boston team that might be a bit more opportunistic on the attack going forward.
It's a lot to ask a sophomore defenseman who has gone through some regular season struggles, but Carlson's season might not last much longer if Dale Hunter and the Caps don't make some defensive adjustments.