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Capitals taking liberties with Bruins?

01.18.09 at 1:04 am ET

The Bruins have been saying for weeks that they’re expecting the best shot that other teams can give them as jostling for the playoffs continues, and that’s exactly what happened in an Eastern Conference statement game/2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals last night at Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center.

The defeat snapped a seven-game road winning streak that began in early December.

The site of the Black and Gold’s last road loss? The very same Verizon Center last month when the B’s dropped a 3-1 contest on Dec. 10 that saw Russian Rocket Alexander Ovechkin score a pair of goals. This time Alexander Semin took possession of a sloppy Martin St. Pierre pass and exhibited an exciting one-man rush up the ice in the waning moments of the third. The B’s now sit nine points ahead of Washington in the Eastern Conference standings, and the Capitals have been one of the few teams to show they can play toe-to-toe with the Big, Bad B’s.

The B’s played well enough and certainly hard enough in the loss, but of growing concern is the physical liberties that opposing teams are taking with the Bruins with both Milan Lucic and Aaron Ward out of the lineup. The Looch (fifth in the NHL with 154 thumping hits) and the veteran blueliner (third on the team with 82 hits) are the two heaviest and most frequent body-checkers in the B’s lineup — aside from the loathe-to-see-him-spend-5-or-10-minutes-in-the-penalty-box Zdeno Chara — and their ready-to-pound presence has been missed on the frozen sheet.

To wit: Ovechkin is one of the rare scorers not afraid to get into another player’s proverbial kitchen, and the Russian superstar put a very questionable knee/leg body check on Dennis Wideman in the second period. Wideman didn’t respond to Ovechkin’s tactic, but the refs did whistle him for the rare “Kneeing” penalty following the hit. With Ward or Lucic on the active roster there may have been some semblance of a response, but there wasn’t anything remotely approaching Ovechkin’s knee masquerading as a dangerous weapon.

Wideman needed treatment on the left knee following the game, but managed to gut through the rest of regulation while limping through long portions of the third period.

The Caps also targeted Marc Savard throughout the game with Nicklas Backstrom throwing a clear elbow at the playmaking center’s face, and several other Washington skaters making life difficult — and painful — for the biggest threat on Boston’s injury-ravaged first line. Without some of their premier skaters ready and available, the B’s seemed a little resistant to respond to these physical call to arms and couldn’t match Washington’s star power.

This isn’t even mentioning Brett Erskine taking big swipes at the head of Savard and Chuck Kobasew in the third period — another head-hunting move that might have been tempered if there was a bit more fear in the corners of the Capitals’ skaters eyes.

Semin and prolific blueliner Mike Green potted goals for the Caps in the win, and Savard managed the only goal for the Bruins. It was a simple and effective philosophy: let your playmakers account for a few scores and dazzle with your high-wattage power play, hold down the B’s acting No. 1 line of David Krejci/Blake Wheeler/Michael Ryder and get very physical with Savard each time he was out on the ice. It was something that wasn’t happening as much when Lucic was riding shotgun with Savard, and chances are it won’t happen if he’s again skating with Savard when he returns from his shoulder injury.

It wasn’t difficult to envision these two teams tangling in a seven-game war this spring once the Stanley Cup playoffs become a reality, and the Capitals have been successful in the last two minor skirmishes leading up to that big puck conflict. There should be plenty on the line when the Capitals arrive at the Garden for the rematch on Jan. 27.

Bergeron getting close to a return?

A great piece of news from Washington as both Patrice Bergeron and Andrew Ference were removed from the injured reserve list, and may begin slowly working their way back into game action. Ference will be a welcomed blueline cavalry for a group that has been depleted by injuries, and Bergeron is a huge second-half key to Boston’s strength-up-the-middle attack. That being said, don’t expect the 23-year-old center to return prior to the NHL All-Star break at the very earliest.

No matter when Bergeron returns, that has to be considered a huge lift for a hockey club that’s been much more MASH unit lately. Despite the bumps, bruises and scrapes, the Black and Gold continue to amaze with their uncanny ability to keep winning and maintaining their edge in the Eastern Conference.

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