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Top Stories of 2012, No. 8: Bruins ousted in first round of playoffs by Capitals

12.26.12 at 8:42 am ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 8: the Bruins’ first-round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year

Capitals forward Mike Knuble celebrates teammate Joel Ward's overtime goal that eliminated the Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. (AP)

Coming off a Stanley Cup season, the Bruins looked poised to make another run deep into the playoffs in 2012. However, they were dismissed in shocking fashion with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

One goal decided the series, and it was Joel Ward‘s overtime goal that decided Game 7. The Caps outscored the B’s 16-15 in the series. Four of the seven games were decided in overtime.

“It was a long year,” B’s defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said after the Game 7 loss. “We had a few ups and downs, longer ups than downs. At the end, we came out of it strong and we seemed to find our rhythm going into the playoffs. But then again, we didn’t play our best hockey in this series. They played us well. It was tough.

“It’s definitely a weird feeling. It’s an empty feeling. You’re wondering what’s going to happen. You don’t really realize it’s over. It’s summer now. It’s going to be a long summer. A couple of bounces here or there, it could’ve gone the other way. You always have to look at it from a different perspective. The next couple of days, it’s going to sink in, probably.”

The Bruins had 49 wins in the regular season, three more than they had during their Stanley Cup season. The Bruins put up an impressive 102 points despite the “Stanley Cup hangover” that contributed to their slow start and grabbed the second seed.

On the other side of the ice, the Capitals finished with 42 wins and 92 points. They made an early coaching change, firing Bruce Boudreau following eight losses in 11 games while the Capitals sat at 12-9-1, tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference. Dale Hunter, a former Capitals enforcer, took over and led the team to 30 wins. The Caps won eight of their last 14 games, including two shootout wins (one against the Bruins) in their final three games.

The Bruins won the series’ opening game on an overtime goal, the only score of the game, off the stick of Chris Kelly. Kelly beat Braden Holtby with a slapper just 1:18 into overtime. Tim Thomas secured his second consecutive postseason shutout dating back to last year’s Stanley Cup finals.

Game 2 was a another thriller, and it ended in double overtime. Nicklas Backstrom scored 2:56 into the second OT to give Washington a 2-1 victory. Troy Brouwer poked the puck under the gloves of Greg Zanon and Thomas to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. Benoit Pouliot scored the lone B’s goal, his first career playoff goal, in the third period.

Game 3 featured some intense play. Alexander Semin and Alexander Ovechkin netted goals for the Caps while Rich Peverley and Daniel Paille lit the lamp for the Bruins to tie the game at 2-2. Brian Rolston scored 1:02 into the third, but the lead lasted only until Brooks Laich scored on a breakaway. Zdeno Chara then won it for Boston when he fired a shot from the point that went off of Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik’s stick and past Holtby with 1:53 remaining. It was Chara’s first goal of the playoffs and it would give the B’s a 4-3 win.

The Bruins would catch a break after Backstrom received a one-game suspension for his cross check on Peverley at the end of regulation in Game 3.

The Bruins would never hold a lead in Game 4, as the Capitals took an early lead on a Marcus Johansson goal following a defensive breakdown by Andrew Ference and Chara that left Rolston back to defend a 2-on-1. Peverley tied the game later in the first, but a Semin power-play goal proved to be the difference. The B’s dropped the game, 2-1, and the series was even.

Game 5 in Boston was scoreless for the first period but had four goals in the second. Two goals early in the period by the Caps were matched by the Bruins, who scored two goals in 28 seconds.

It didn’t matter, though. Brouwer’s second goal of the day would give the Capitals a 4-3 victory and a 3-2 series lead.

It was do or die in Game 6, and it came down to overtime again. This time it was Tyler Seguin, with his first goal of the series, who played the role of hero at the Verizon Center in Washington. He scored just over three minutes into overtime to give the Bruins a 4-3 win that forced a decisive Game 7.

“When you’re a little kid, that’s your dream, get those big goals and keep your team alive,” Seguin said. “Looking back on my career so far, that’s probably one of the biggest goals I’ve got.”

The Bruins had confidence that 7 was their lucky number as they headed into the final match of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Capitals were 1-3 in Game 7s since 2008 while the Bruins were 3-3, and the Bruins won all three of those Game 7s in their run to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship.

Recent Game 7 experiences were not the deciding factor in the outcome in the series, though. Rather, strong play and small details decided the series.

All series, the Capitals consistently beat the Bruins in blocked shots and faceoffs. The Bruins outshot the Capitals, but the quality of each team’s scoring chances remained similar. Holtby, the Caps goaltender who made just seven regular-season starts before starting every game in the series, made the saves when they counted. He earned a .940 save percentage in the postseason.

In Game 7, Holtby allowed just one goal and saved 31 shots. It would be the difference in the game as the Capitals won 2-1. Matt Hendricks’ first-period goal came when a Milan Lucic turnover led to a John Carlson wrist shot Hendricks was able to redirect in.

Seguin got his second goal in two games to tie the game in impressive fashion when he dove to the net to put in a rebound off a Johnny Boychuk shot.

The teams remained deadlocked through most of the third period. B’s coach Claude Julien had hoped his team would find a way to advance and find its groove in the next round.

“At the end of the day when you look at your team, your team wasn’t playing its best hockey in this series,” Julien said. “Before this day started, you just hoped that you would get through this Game 7 and pick some momentum up as you moved forward in the playoffs.”

The momentum definitely wasn’t there in the final minutes of Game 7. A holding penalty to Jason Chimera with 2:26 left gave the Bruins a man advantage. The Bruins mustered just one shot on the last-minute power play.

The power play was wholly ineffective throughout the series. The Bruins were scoreless in three chances in Game 7. The B’s scored two goals in 23 power-play chances in the series.

“It’s obvious that we had to better on the power play and we didn’t do that and at least create some momentum out of it and I don’t think we did that,” Patrice Bergeron said. “But, more than that I think it’s about especially Game 7, you have to find ways.”

A turnover in overtime led to Ward’s backhand, rebound goal to end the hopes of a Bruins repeat.

Following the loss, a number of racist tweets were directed at Ward, one of few black players in the NHL. The player showed a great deal of class in handling the controversy.

“He’s put it in his back pocket so to speak,” said Ward’s Boston-based agent, Peter Cooney. “He knows he’s going to have interviews and people talking about it. He’s heard about it, but he said ‘Peter, don’t worry — that stuff never bothered me.’ ”

The Capitals went on to lose to the Rangers in seven games in the second round.

As for the Bruins, they’ve had plenty of time to think about how their season ended. With the ensuing NHL lockout, there’s been no hockey since the heartbreaking conclusion to the season.

Read More: 2012 Stories of the Year, Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, bruins