With the Washington Capitals playing the Boston Bruins in their inaugural game of the 2019-20 season on October 3, 2018, it almost coincides with another Opening Night contest between the two teams in 2009. While the opener in 2018 will take place at Capital One Arena (then known as the Verizon Center), the opener in 2009 took place at TD Garden in Boston.
The game was a matchup between two teams who had the best records in the Eastern Conference in 2008-09 but had both been bounced out of the playoffs during the second round. The Bruins finished in first place in the Northeast Division with a 53-19-10 record and narrowly missed out on winning the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the best team in the regular season. The Caps finished in first place in the Southeast Division with a 50-24-8 record, their best finish in many years, despite numerous injuries throughout the season. However, neither team made it to the Conference Finals during the playoffs. The Caps were ousted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the most bitter rival in the team’s history in a seven-game series. Boston, meanwhile, was upset by the sixth-seeded Carolina Hurricanes in a seven-game series in Round 2. So, both teams were hungry for more success and wanted to start off well.
Personnel-wise for the Caps, Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov did not return to the team but signed with teams in the KHL instead. Their replacements were Brendan Morrison, a center who had played the majority of his career with the Vancouver Canucks, and veteran Mike Knuble, a right winger, who had most recently played with the Philadelphia Flyers. Morrison had been dogged by knee injuries in recent years; while Knuble was 37-years old, he still had averaged over 25 goals during the previous four seasons.
There was also the question as to who would man the net for the Capitals, veteran Jose Theodore, who had played inconsistently the previous year, or rookie Semyon Varlamov, who had replaced Theodore in Game 2 of the first round of the previous year’s playoffs and started the remaining playoff games. For that particular game, the decision was made by then-Head Coach Bruce Boudreau to start Theodore.
In addition, wingers Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr were unable to play, with Fleischmann sidelined by blood clots and Fehr still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Veteran center Michael Nylander did not seem to be quite the same player after returning from shoulder surgery during the 2007-08 season and the Caps were now looking to unload him and his large cap hit to another team.
For the Bruins, the most notable personnel change was the fact they traded their leading goal-scorer from the previous season, Phil Kessel, to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Toronto’s 2010 and 2011 first-round picks and a 2010 second-round pick. Kessel had been a restricted free agent, but he and Boston were not able to agree on a contract extension and as a result, he was available in a trade. Boston was not able to pay him the salary he anticipated, especially since they had already committed to a long-term extension to center Marc Savard. Given that Toronto was expected to perform poorly during the 2009-10 season, it was anticipated that the first pick they acquired could be a lottery pick for Boston.
The first period was uneventful from a scoring standpoint until Boston was called for a “too many men” penalty with three minutes left in the period. On the ensuing power play, just 15 seconds later, the Caps scored the first goal of the game and first of the 2009-10 season on a Brooks Laich goal, on assists from Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin. The goal was a backdoor feed from Backstrom to Laich. The Caps now led 1-0, which would hold for the remainder of the opening frame.
The Caps scored again nearly halfway through the period. This time, Ovechkin scored his first goal, with assists from Alexander Semin and Backstrom. Ovechkin streaked down the ice to receive the pass, shot and scored. The score was now 2-0 which again held through to the end of the period. The period ended with Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara taking a penalty for cross-checking.
The Caps began the final frame on the man-advantage, and struck just 16 seconds in. Once again, it was Laich who scored the goal, this time on assists from Backstrom and Semin. The score was now 3-0. The Caps struck again less than two minutes later, with Ovechkin scoring his second goal of the game on assists from Tom Poti and Laich. The score was now a commanding 4-0 lead for the Caps.
Boston scored one goal nearly eight minutes into the period when Patrice Bergeron scored, with assists by Steve Begin and Mark Stuart. The score was now 4-1 which ended up being the final score of the teams’ Opening Night.
The third period also featured a fight between Caps defenseman John Erskine and Boston forward Shawn Thornton.
The game was the Ovechkin and Laich show as they both had two goals and one assist. It also featured three assists by Backstrom and two assists by Semin. In short, the game was a great offensive show by four young players who were the core of the team’s offense over the previous two seasons and felt like a statement victory against a team who was expected to be a strong contender for the Eastern Conference Championship.
Caps goaltender, Jose Theodore, made 19 saves in the game. It was a redemption game for him, as the previous season ended with him being replaced by Varlamov for most of the playoffs. It was the first victory against Boston inOpw regulation in fifteen years.
Video of Game Highlights