As the Washington Capitals prepare to meet the Boston Bruins on Sunday, August 9, 2020 in their third and final round robin game to determine 2020 playoff seeding, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle takes time to take a quick look back at the playoff history between the Capitals and Bruins.
The two Eastern Conference teams have met three times in postseason action: in 1990, they met in the Eastern Conference Finals; in 1998, they met in the first round; and in 2012, they met in the first round.
1990 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The first playoff meeting between the Capitals and the Boston Bruins occurred in 1990. The Caps posted a 36-38-6 record and 78 points, finishing in third place in the Patrick Division during the regular season, behind the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. The Bruins finished first in the Adams Division, finishing with a record of 46-25-9 for 101 points, and won the President’s Trophy for the 1989-90 season.
Their third round meeting was the first time the Caps had ever advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history. Prior to advancing to meet the Bruins, the Capitals had beaten the New Jersey Devils in the first round in six games and the New York Rangers in a five-game, second-round series. Forward John Druce had been the Caps’ unexpected playoff hero, especially during their recent series with the Rangers.
This series appeared to be a mismatch, with a President’s Trophy winner in Boston going up against a plucky, third place underdog who had unexpectedly advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. To add to their underdog status, the Capitals were missing key players in Dino Ciccarelli and Kevin Hatcher, each who had sprained a left knee. Unfortunately for the Capitals, the combination of Boston being a better team in conjunction with having key players out was too much to overcome, although individual games were not necessarily mismatches. They lost the first game in Boston by a score of 5-3, a game in which they had taken a 3-2 lead during the second period. They lost Game 2 3-0 before returning home and dropping two more games, one by a 4-1 score, and the other by a 3-2 score.
1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Capitals and Bruins met again in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the 1998 postseason, this time in the first round. During the regular season, the Capitals finished 40-30-12 for 92 standings points and third place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins, meanwhile, posted a record of 39-30-13 for 91 standings points and finished second in the Northeast Division. As a result, the Caps earned home ice advantage for Round 1. The 1997-98 regular season and subsequent postseason was Olaf Kolzig’s first year as the undisputed, number one goaltender for the Caps.
In Game 1, the Caps led 2-0 early in the second period but gave up a goal soon after scoring their second goal. Midway through the second period, Capitals forward Peter Bondra appeared to be injured after a collision with defenseman Hal Gill. The fear was that he had broken his leg, but he returned to the ice for the third period. The Capitals added an empty-net goal and won the game 3-1. In Game 2, Washington got off to another 2-0 lead by the end of two periods, but could not hold on and fell behind 3-2, before tying the game late. The game headed to overtime, where the Bruins won just one minute into the second OT frame, thanks to a Darren Van Impe goal.
In Game 3, the Caps once again got off to an 2-0 lead, with defenseman Sergei Gonchar scoring both goals before the end of the second period, but the team could not hold onto the lead and the Bruins tied the score during the third period. At one point, it appeared that the Bruins had scored the game-winning goal during the first subsequent overtime period, however, the goal was called back. Capitals forward Joe Juneau scored during the second overtime period to give the Caps a 3-2 victory. Washington followed this win with a 3-0 win in Game 4, with Center Adam Oates scoring the first two goals. The Caps now held a commanding 3-1 series lead, however the Bruins still showed they had life in Game 5, as they won decisively, 4-0.
The Bruins’ Game 5 win set the stage for Game 6. In this game, the Capitals scored in the first period, but Boston struck back during the second period. Oates put the Caps ahead 2-1 less than a minute later. During the third period, Anson Carter scored the game-tying goal as a Capitals’ penalty expired, sending the game to overtime. Less than five minutes into the overtime period, Brian Bellows, who the Caps had signed as a free agent late in the season, scored the game and series winner. This series featured three overtime games, with two of them won by the Caps.
Given that the all the higher seeds of the Eastern Conference had been upset in Round 1, the Capitals were now the highest remaining seed of the East. They played the Ottawa Senators in Round 2, beating them in five games. From there, they moved on to play the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference Finals, beating them in six games. This was the team’s second appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history. They advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings, their first appearance in franchise history. Unfortunately, they were swept by the powerhouse Red Wings.
Further Reading on This Series:
First Game Goes to Kolzig and Capitals
Boston Wins in Second Overtime
In Overtime, Caps Get the Goal that Counts
With Winning Goal, Bellows Finishes What He Started
Hockey Reference: Capitals vs Bruins Playoff Matchup 1998
2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Capitals and Bruins would meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs 14 years later, in the 2012 postseason, once again in the first round. During the regular season, the Capitals finished 42-32-8 for 92 standings points and second place in the Southeast Division. The Bruins, meanwhile, posted a record of 49-29-4 for 102 standings points and finished first in the Northeast Division., and had won the Stanley Cup the previous spring and were preparing to defend their title. Given that they finished first in their division and had a better record than the Caps, the Bruins would have home ice advantage for the first round of the postseason. Goaltender Braden Holtby, who had spent most of the year with the Caps’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears, would be in goal for Washington, as their primary goalies, Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirty, had been injured.
Game 1 was a defense and goaltending-oriented game in which neither team was able to score in regulation. The Bruins would win it 1-0, when forward Chris Kelly scored the game winner. Game 2 was similar to Game 1, as it revolved around defense and goaltending. The Capitals scored late in the second period, but it was not enough as Boston tied the game during the third. The game proceeded to overtime and then double overtime, where the Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom scored early in the second overtime period to give the Caps a 2-1 victory and allowing them to tie the series at one game apiece.
The two teams headed Washington, which saw the home team lose Game 3 by a 4-3 score. The Capitals had scored first but the game’s storyline was a relatively see-saw affair with Bruins’ captain and defenseman Zdeno Chara scoring the game-winning goal with just under two minutes left in the game. Backstrom earned a match penalty at the end of the game and was suspended for Game 4. The Caps rebounded to win the next game 2-1, during which forward Alexander Semin scored a power play late in the second period to break a 1-1 tie, with that lead holding up for the remainder of the game.
Game 5 was another Capitals win, which put them up 3-2 in the series. Both teams scored two goals in the second period, and Washington won the game on a late power play goal by Troy Brouwer as the final score was set to 4-3. Game 6 was another overtime game, with Boston winning 4-3 on a goal by Tyler Seguin. The Caps won Game 7 on an overtime goal by first-year Capital Joel Ward, which broke a 1-1 tie. The Capitals advanced to the second round of the playoffs, while dethroning the defending champions. The Caps went onto to play the New York Rangers the next round, and lost in seven games.
The 2012 and most recent meeting between the two Eastern Conference rivals was a very closely fought series in which all games were decided by just one goal and featured four overtime games.
By Diane Doyle