Boston Bruins players could feel themselves making progress in recent games against the Washington Capitals even as the losses piled up.
All it took was finishing one play, a commitment to team defense and a handful of timely saves by Tuukka Rask for the Bruins to end their 14-game skid against the defending Stanley Cup champions with a 1-0 victory Sunday. Boston beat Washington for the first time since March 29, 2014, and its 14 consecutive victories against Arizona are now the longest active winning streak against one opponent in the NHL.
"We've had some tight games," said Rask, who made 24 saves for just his second career victory in 19 appearances against Washington. "It's one of those things that just happens in sports where you get into these streaks of either winning or losing and at some point they're going to snap."
Thanks to David Krejci's goal, the Bruins snapped their three-game skid and handed the Capitals their eighth loss in nine games.
Outscored 45-21 during their 14-game run of futility, the Bruins dominated the Capitals in almost all facets of the game and would have blown them out if not for the play of goaltender Braden Holtby, who made 37 saves. Holtby was helpless to stop Krejci's shot on a one-timer after a tic-tac-toe puck movement and a cross-ice pass from Torey Krug midway through the second.
Rask earned "TUUK!" chants rom Bruins fans in attendance, no louder than when he flashed the glove to snare a shot from Travis Boyd in the slot in the third period. The Finnish goalie picked up his 253rd career victory to take over first place on the Bruins' all-time list.
"He was in control all night," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "We were pretty clean in front of him there till the end, and when we weren't, he was there for us. Happy for him, I think the guys in the room are as well and hopefully he keeps building on it."
Boston defenseman Brandon Carlo didn't believe there was necessarily a theme or specific problem that led to such a lopsided stretch against Washington and thought his team was getting closer to breaking through. Afterward, captain Zdeno Chara said the Bruins "finally" got the win against Washington.
In many ways, the Capitals had themselves to blame.
Fed up by mental mistakes, Capitals coach Todd Reirden used ice time as a weapon to punish players. He benched Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitrij Jaskin for much of the first period after each took a penalty and Andre Burakovsky for the first few minutes of the second for a defensive-zone turnover that almost led to a goal.
Washington leads the league with 191 minor penalties.
"I think as you get past the All-Star break and you start making a push toward the playoffs, that's an area we have to get better in, as we've taken far too many minor penalties with our sticks," Reirden said. "We have to be more disciplined if we're going to have success moving forward from here, and I thought the last 30 games is a good time to implement that."
Alex Ovechkin returned to the lineup after being forced to sit out Friday against Calgary for skipping All-Star Weekend. Ovechkin powered around Chara for a scoring chance in the first period but couldn't crack Rask. He will need to wait at least one more game to pass Sergei Fedorov for the most points by a Russian player.
"I'm so happy he didn't get it on me," Rask said. "I didn't know that. That would've been in my head if I knew that. That's good. I'm not facing them again, so that's good."
NOTES: Capitals C Lars Eller was out with a lower-body injury that caused him to leave Friday's game against Calgary. ... D Christian Djoos began a two-game conditioning assignment with Hershey of the American Hockey League. ... Boston improved to 14-4-2 on Super Bowl Sunday, third in the NHL in such victories behind Montreal and Washington. ... Bruins center Patrice Bergeron played his 999th regular-season game.
Bruins: Host former Capitals coach Barry Trotz and the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Islanders on Tuesday.
Capitals: Host Calder Trophy front-runner Elias Pettersson and the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.