BOSTON – In the days leading up to a Saturday matinee against the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien had directed several critical words at his mostly silent trio of Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and David Krejci.
Those three players, widely considered to be the No. 1 line on Boston's depth chart, decided to finally make some noise on the ice against the team that shut them down in the playoffs last season.
Lucic set up first-period goals by Horton and Krejci and the three forwards combined for nine points as Boston bested Washington, 4-1, at TD Garden in a game that earned some level of revenge for a Game 7 playoff loss here last season and the Capitals' comeback victory from earlier this month in Washington.
"Obviously, we haven't scored for a while, but I think our line played a lot better tonight," Horton said. "Like Claude said, when you're thinking, you're up and you're making plays, you make more mistakes when you do that. Just get the puck deep. You saw that on every goal. I chipped the puck to [Lucic's] corner. I don't know how he got the puck every time."
Anton Khudobin made 32 saves for Boston, while Michal Neuvirth, in a rare second straight start, made 34 saves for the Capitals.
In addition to three points, Horton capped a Gordie Howe hat trick with a fight against Matt Hendricks in the second period.
"They showed exactly what we need to see from them on a more consistent basis," Julien said. "They were skating the north-south type game, they were forechecking, being physical. Because of that they were turning pucks over, and not only that, they were strong on the puck, and they made their chances count."
The Capitals have now lost four of their last five and scored just six goals in their last four outings.
"Only because I feel a little snake-bit," Capitals coach Adam Oates said about his concern with the offense. "We have had a lot of chances. [Nicklas Backstrom] gets robbed, [Jason Chimera] gets robbed. [Alexander Ovechkin] had a bunch of shots. Power plays could be better, Marcus [Johansson]. I'm not worried about production, it will be there, and you go through stretches."
Snapping an eight-game goal drought, Horton got the Bruins on the board first with a one-timer from the slot at 14:12 of the first period. Lucic put the pressure on Troy Brouwer on the forecheck, and after stealing a pass below the goal line he skated around the net and found Horton out front.
Lucic set up the Bruins' second goal with a heavy forecheck as well. The left wing won a battle below the goal line and forced Mike Ribeiro to make an errant pass that Krejci picked off on his way to the net. Krejci fired the puck past Neuvirth at 17:15 for a 2-0 lead.
If thoughts of the Bruins' loss after leading 3-0 in Washington earlier this month weren't on the players' minds, that collapse might've been when the Capitals got on the scoreboard without taking a shot. Krejci intercepted Johansson's centering pass near the Boston net. The Boston center tried to bump the puck to Johnny Boychuk, who accidentally deflected it into the net with the blade of his left skate at 1:24 of the second period. Boston proved its mental toughness by not letting the fluky goal change the way it played the rest of the game.
"It was one of those bad bounces," Julien said. "David was making the right play by trying to put it in the corner, and it happened to hit a skate and go in. Those are things you can overcome when you know you're playing the type of game you want to play."
Krejci helped the Bruins regain their two-goal lead later in the period. He gained the offensive zone and dropped the puck back to a streaking Horton, who drew the defense to him and slid the puck back to Andrew Ference. The defenseman buried a wrist shot from the high slot at 8:02. Ference's goal gave Boston a 3-1 lead and was his first score after 30 games without one this season.
Rich Peverley added a third-period power-play goal, and the Bruins moved at least temporarily into first place in the Northeast Division with the victory.
"Well, that's what we strive for," Julien said. "We wanted a complete game. We got more of a complete game, more of the type of game that our team's looking for."