BOSTON — It was a play that almost never works.
A goalie usually stops the puck on long clear-ins behind his own net and holds it long enough to give it to one of his defensemen to start the breakout.
Pressuring the puck in that spot is usually a waste of energy for the forechecking forward. But in the closest game of a very close series, Bruins right wing Craig Smith kept bearing down. Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov didn’t wait long enough and left the puck for Justin Schultz, while casually returning to his crease.
But Smith beat the Washington defenseman to it. He grabbed the puck behind the net, took a quick stride and then used his long reach to hook the puck around the front and pulled it just inside the far post, beating Samsonov’s desperate late skate by a mere instant to give the Bruins a 3-2 win and a 2-1 lead in the series.
“You don’t expect to get those,” Coach Bruce Cassidy said. “But if you keep playing behind their D and forcing them to break pucks out, you will get some breaks like that. He stayed on it and good for him to have the recognition to stuff it.”
Once he saw an opening, Smith visualized his chance in a split second.
“I just tried to jump on it and see if I could create a turnover. They gave me just enough time to get in there and get it,” Smith said. “It was a great feeling. … His ankle just didn’t get back there in time.”
Smith had a huge grin as he skated toward the Boston bench. He pantomimed Clark Kent opening his shirt to reveal the Superman suit underneath as his teammates mobbed him in celebration.
While Taylor Hall’s acquisition at the trade deadline has certainly given the Bruins a shot in the arm, Smith has been an underrated piece for the newly formed second line.
“That goal tonight was a classic example of him putting pressure on a guy with his speed and physicality then making a play for a goal afterward,” Hall said. “He’s probably one of the most well-liked guys I’ve ever played with as a teammate. I’m really happy for him tonight.”
TAYLOR HALL’S got the inspiration for his second-period goal that tied the game 1-1from, of all places, a goalie coach. At morning skate Wednesday, Bob Essensa pulled the new Bruins forward aside. What he said stuck in Hall’s mind Wednesday when he got the puck in front of the net.
“He skated by me and made a comment on a shot I had last game where I probably could have pulled it around instead of just shooting five-hole quick,” Hall said. “That was on my mind as the game went on.”
Rather than trying a quick backhand when he caught the puck with his back to the net, Hall spun like a post player after catching a basketball on the low block and kept the puck on his forehand allowing him to flip it by Samsonov.
“I’m starting to get some confidence goal-scoring-wise since I’ve gotten here,” he said. “That’s probably a good example of that.”
Hall now has two goals in three postseason games with Boston matching his total in 37 regular-season games with Buffalo.
TUUKKA RASK was the latest Bruin frustrated by Garnet Hathaway, the Kennebunkport native who has been an effective agitator all series for Washington. With the game tied 1-1 with 6:11 left, Hathaway collided with Rask and appeared to pull his goalie mask off.
Kevan Miller pushed Hathaway down in the crease and Rask swung angrily and landed two quick right hands. Neither player was called for a penalty.
“I was just protecting myself,” Rask said. “I figured I’d let him know if he comes close, maybe I’ll give him a couple, maybe too many.”
OVERTIME OVERKILL: Boston and Washington have become the most reliably tight postseason rivalry in the NHL with 12 consecutive games decided by one goal in the playoffs.
On top of that, this year neither team has even led by more than one goal in the three games which have all gone to overtime. This is actually five straight overtime games between them as their best-of-seven series in 2012 had four OT games including the last two.
GAME 3 ON WEDNESDAY was the first time the Bruins had played a home playoff game since the Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Finals nearly two years ago. There was still only 25% of capacity of the Garden allowed (if the Bruins should advance, they could have full capacity for the second round) but the 5,000-plus have made their presence felt.
“It’s nice to be back, there’s no doubt about that. I think everyone would say that after the bubble experience,” said Cassidy. “We had to do what we had to do, but it’s nice to be back in your familiar surroundings. I see a lot of Bruins merchandise I see around town. It’s that time of year. A little later than normal. We always want to be playing at this time of year, but the playoffs are pushed back a bit, but still great weather for it and a great atmosphere being back here.”