WASHINGTON — Because Tyler Seguin and Tim Thomas returned to form, the Bruins are heading back to Boston for another game against the Washington Capitals.
Seguin scored at 3:17 of overtime, Thomas made 36 saves, and the Bruins beat Washington 4-3 on Sunday to tie the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series at three games apiece.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins never trailed, but needed a stolen pass and a deft bit of skating by Seguin to finally get the decisive goal and avoid elimination.
The series finale is Wednesday night in Boston. The first six games were all decided by one goal, three of them in overtime.
“It’s been a dogfight from start to finish,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Both teams here are heading to Game 7 with the same kind of confidence. For us, it’s time to take advantage of the home ice that we’ve fought hard all year to get. We’ve got to make it count.”
Seguin led the Bruins during the regular season with 29 goals and 67 points but was scoreless in the playoffs until Sunday. Thomas, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, was generally outplayed by Capitals rookie Braden Holtby over the first five games of the series.
Not so in Game 6.
Thomas had 35 saves in regulation, and Seguin contributed an assist before beating Holtby to end the game.
“It was a coming-of-age goal there in overtime,” Thomas said about Seguin, a 20-year-old with two years of NHL experience.
The pivotal play began when David Krejci intercepted a pass by Nicklas Backstrom and sent the puck to Milan Lucic, who passed ahead to Seguin.
Seguin veered slightly to his right to draw Holtby from the net, then lifted a shot past the rookie to win it.
“I saw the goalie challenging, so I just tried to make a quick move and got lucky it went in,” Seguin said. “This series I’ve had a lot of chances and opportunities and I haven’t been finishing them off. It’s just really nice to get that feeling of finding the back of the net.”
Julien said, “For him to jump on that and be patient enough to skate around the goaltender, it’s great to see.”
That kept alive Boston’s bid to become the first team to win successive Stanley Cups since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.
The seventh-seeded Capitals, on the other hand, face the prospect of having to win a third game in Boston to advance to the second round.
“Game 7 is a grinding kind of game,” coach Dale Hunter said. “We’re used to playing it. Every game here has been tough game. Both sides are, I imagine, a little bit banged up. But little bruises, they’ll forget about them come Game 7.”
The Bruins took a 3-2 lead at 11:51 of the third period on a goal by Andrew Ference, who put in the long rebound of a shot by Seguin. Ference thrust his fist into the air in delight in front of the Bruins’ bench to celebrate after his first goal of the series.
But Washington wasn’t done. Off a faceoff in the Boston zone, Alex Ovechkin controlled the puck with his left skate and promptly ripped a shot that skidded between Thomas’ legs with 4:52 left in regulation.
It was not unlike Saturday’s game, when Thomas gave up a lamentable goal to Troy Brouwer in the closing minutes of Washington’s 4-3 victory.
Julien knew Thomas would bounce back Sunday, and the coach was right.
“I thought he played a huge game,” Julien said. “I knew he was upset (Saturday) after the game. Just by his reaction, I had no doubt he was going to come up huge today.”
Boston’s Rich Peverley opened the scoring at 5:56 of the first period by deflecting a shot by Ference past Holtby. It was the first time in five games and only the second time in the series that the Bruins notched the game’s initial goal.
The lead was short lived. After gaining possession of the puck on top of the left circle, Washington defenseman Mike Green twice drew his stick back before choosing the right moment to launch a slap shot that soared past Thomas’ left shoulder and into the net at 9:47.
But the Bruins went up 2-1 7 minutes later on a power-play goal by Krejci, who ended Boston’s 1-for-16 struggle with the extra man. Krejci entered the center of the Washington zone, dropped a pass to incoming Lucic on the left side and then tipped in the return pass.
In the second period, however, the Capitals’ penalty-killing efficiency came heavily into play. After Ovechkin received a 4-minute penalty for bloodying the nose of Zdeno Chara with a high stick, Washington limited the Bruins to a single shot on goal while short-handed and even managed a decent shot of its own.
The Capitals pulled even with less than a minute left in the period. Backstrom charged down the right side and waited until Thomas and Chara committed themselves before sending a backhand, cross-ice pass to Jason Chimera, who slammed the puck into the net before Thomas could move back across the crease.
Washington outshot Boston 15-5 in the second period. It will take that kind of effort for the Capitals to prevail on Wednesday.
“We’ve already seen them six times. I don’t think anything’s going to change on our end,” said Washington’s Matt Hendricks, who was not surprised at Boston’s effort Sunday.
“They’re Stanley Cup champs last year. They’re not going to die easy.”
On Saturday, Troy Brouwer scored on a power play with 1:27 left, giving the Capitals the 4-3 win over the Bruins.
The Bruins rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 before Brouwer beat Thomas over the glove with a wrist shot from the right circle.
Johnny Boychuk tied it at 3 with 11:13 left on a power play, putting a 50-footer from the left into the far side of the net.
There was a good chance the game would go to overtime for the third time in the series. Then Benoit Pouliot was called for slashing Nicklas Backstrom.
“It was a tough call at 2:50 (left) in the game,” Pouliot said. “It’s a grind out there and sometimes you get the call, sometimes you don’t.”
Brouwer said he saw a Bruins defenseman turn toward the middle of the ice, giving him a lane in which to shoot for his second goal of the series.
“We were getting buzzed a little bit and I think they had a little bit of momentum off their power play goal,” Brouwer said. “So, for us to get a power play late, create a little bit of offense and ultimately get a goal, it’s good.”
Washington took a 2-0 lead in the second period on goals by Alexander Semin at 11:16 and Jay Beagle at 14:27. That seemed to be a sizeable advantage in a series that featured tight defense with each team scoring only seven goals in the first four games.
About 15 seconds before Semin’s goal, Bruins defenseman Joe Corvo blocked a shot and fell to the ice. He struggled to his feet and didn’t regain his normal stride before Semin scored. Bruins coach Claude Julien said play should have been stopped. He also was upset when Zdeno Chara was dazed after taking an elbow to the head without a penalty being called.
“On the winning goal, it’s a very weak (penalty) call in my mind,” he said, “and it ended up costing us the winning goal.”
The Bruins rallied with two goals in 28 seconds late in the period to tie at 2. Dennis Seidenberg scored with 2:39 left on a one-timer from the right circle that got past Holtby. And Brad Marchand tied with 2:11 to go when he poked the rebound through Holtby’s legs after a shot from the right point by Boychuk.
Washington regained the lead 3:21 into the third period when Mike Knuble pounced on a rebound. Joel Ward shot from 50 feet on the right side and Thomas saved it. But the goalie steered the puck to the left side and couldn’t slide over in time to stop Knuble’s shot.
“We could have been down a little bit after the second period when we had a strong 2-0 lead and they came back with two quick ones that can put us on our heels and really boost them,” Knuble said.
Holtby finished with 34 saves, and Thomas stopped 28 shots.