One of the key moments in Game 2's loss for the Capitals came in the second period when Lars Eller departed with a lower-body injury. That loss was critical for Washington not just because they were already down to three centers heading into Game 2, but because Eller and his line may actually be the most important line for the Caps' success against the Boston Bruins.
T.J. Oshie has been centering the third line in Game 1 and Game 2 with Evgeny Kuznetsov out. The move was curious as Michael Raffl was acquired at the trade deadline, in part, to provide center depth. Raffl is a winger, but can play center if needed and has more experience doing so than Oshie.
Instead, Raffl has been on the wing of the second line with Eller at center and Conor Sheary on the left. Specifically not having Raffl at center was notable as was grouping three strong two-way players together. That seemed to indicate this would be head coach Peter Laviolette's foil for Boston's "Perfection Line" of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
Sure enough, in Game 1, Eller's line matched up with Bergeron's and Round 1 went to Eller. It wasn't just because Washington won Game 1, but because they held the top line to zero goals.
In Game 2, Eller's line again matched up against Boston's top line and was again getting the job done.
Against Eller, Bergeron's line had a 35.71% Corsi For in Game 2. They were getting outshot and out-chanced. Bergeron did score in the first period, but Eller negated that as he assisted on a Garnet Hathaway goal later in the first.
Against one of the best lines in hockey, the Caps were having success matching Eller against them...until he came out.
"Everybody step up and try to play some different lines and different roles so it is what it is," Dmitry Orlov said.
"You are looking at making sure you are protecting d-zone starts and trying to get matchups and so when Lars went out it threw a wrinkle," Laviolette said.
While Bergeron's line was held to a 35.71% Corsi For against Eller, for the game at 5-on-5 its Corsi For was 68.75%.
And guess which line scored the game-winner in overtime?
Marchand fired a one-timer that beat goalie Craig Anderson just 39 seconds into the extra frame at the tail end of his shift. Had Eller been in the game, you can bet it would have been Eller's line out there matching against Boston's top line.
“I think there was a little bit of confusion because there were two guys down low and we weren’t able to get in the seam to take away the pass," Laviolette said. "It traveled distance, he was able to get a shot off, so again there’s things that we could have done better, but that’s over with now."
Laviolette did not have any update on Eller following Game 2 saying, "We will sift through things tonight. He left with a lower-body injury.”
The Caps have been able to overcome a number of losses to their lineup this season including the loss of their starting goalie, Vitek Vanecek, less than 14 minutes into Game 1. Washington was able to rally to win that game. If Eller has to miss any time, however, that may be an even more significant blow for Washington. Limiting Boston's top line is one of the keys to the series and the Caps were not able to effectively do so on Monday once Eller came out. If he is not back for Game 3 it may be back to the drawing board for Laviolette and his defensive strategy against Bergeron and Co.