On a night in which the Capitals were able to score eight times in a big win over the Boston Bruins, the key play of the game was actually a fight off the opening faceoff.
With the Caps and Bruins in the same division for the 2021 season, a rivalry seems to have developed between these two teams. The five games they played against one another coming into Sunday’s contest have been contentious affairs that have included an overtime victory, fights, a suspension and even some pregame jawing.
“The games with Boston, they’ve been physical,” head coach Peter Laviolette said after the Caps’ 8-1 win. “There’s been an edge to them and that leads up to great playoff hockey as well.”
So perhaps it should not have been a surprise to see a fight right off the opening faceoff on Sunday.
It didn’t happen during the first shift, it was not as if there was a hit someone didn’t like or an early skirmish that escalated. As soon as the puck dropped, so too did the gloves of Dillon and Chris Wagner.
“You don’t see that very often in the league where there’s one right off the bat,” Laviolette said, “But that’s the way the game went and I thought Brenden did a great job jumping in there.”
Much like the game, the fight itself was very one-sided in Washington’s favor. Dillon hit Wagner with a number of uppercuts until the Bruins forward finally went down.
That fight seemed to set the tone for the entire game. It happened at the drop of the puck. By the time the first period was over, the score was 3-0 Washington.
“That was huge for us,” said Conor Sheary who recorded two goals in the game. “I think it was a little bit unexpected on the bench, but it got everyone going and, obviously, [Dillon] had a good fight and we were all cheering for him and I think we scored quickly after that.
There are a lot of reasons why the Caps should have won on Sunday.
The Bruins were playing in the second leg of a back-to-back in the midst of a brutal schedule. They were also without top two goalies — Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak — as well as three of their top defensemen — Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo.
That should have translated to an easy win for the Caps… but the same was true for Thursday’s game in Washington. In that game, Boston was still without Rask, Halak, McAvoy and Carlo and yet it was the Bruins who walked away with the 4-2 win.
What was different on Sunday? The difference was Dillon setting the tone from the drop of the puck.
Said Sheary: “Definitely give him credit for giving us some energy early in an away barn and a really good job by him.”