LANDOVER -- NHL teams now know when they play the Washington Capitals they're going to face first-class goaltending from Jim Carey, first-rate team defense and some pretty snazzy scoring from the likes of Peter Bondra, Michal Pivonka and Joe Juneau.
But what the rest of the NHL is learning is that the Capitals are capable of doing something they've never had a knack for.
The Capitals are continually finding a way to win.
Yesterday, with three forwards out with injury and flu, their top defenseman, Sylvain Cote, tossed from the game 6:07 after the opening faceoff for checking from behind, and their usual goal producers closed down, the Capitals used goals by rookie Jeff Nelson and Kelly Miller to beat the Boston Bruins, 2-1.
Miller's game-winning goal came with 2:01 left.
"I bet when the Bruins were talking about our team in the locker room before the game, they never mentioned Jeff Nelson -- or Kelly Miller, either," said Carey, who made 25 saves, including 10 in the third period. "When I see Kelly Miller score like that, well I don't get to feel that way the rest of the week. I mean, how often can you feel like that? I can't even explain what it feels like to win a game -- and to win against the Bruins. If we had lost, any time we lose, it affects me for days.
"So when I saw that goal go in . . . well, that's the sign of a character team when you can win without your good players being at their best."
It was a game with a lot of checking, a lot of picks, a lot of grinding in the corners and along the boards.
It was, said Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld, playoff hockey.
"What we did today is really the difference between winning close ones and not winning them," said Schoenfeld. "In the close games, people key on your scorers. . . . There's that extra effort against the offensive guns from each team, and it does leave the door open for someone else to step up and be a hero.
"Tonight, we had Nelly, who makes a tip, and Kelly Miller makes a terrific play for us. Teams that win get that. Teams that don't lose. Right now, we're the team that's winning. . . . I think it's attitude and results that combine to make that happen. We're expecting to win and we're getting the production. It's a nice cycle to be in."
In an Eastern Conference race that can make observers dizzy, with the way teams rise and fall daily, yesterday's two points bumped the Capitals up to fourth. They also are within three points of the Atlantic Division lead, which would bring the No. 2 seed and home-ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the postseason.
"Everything is focused on the big players, so it allows the other guys to score," said Carey. "It's like we focus on [Cam] Neely and [Ray] Bourque and [Adam] Oates, not because the other guys on the team aren't good, but because they're Neely and Bourque and Oates."
Caps rookie defenseman Ken Klee slapped the puck toward the Bruins goal 4:26 into the second period, and Nelson tapped it home for the 1-0 lead.
Nelson didn't even make the pre-game notes because he was called up from Portland and arrived yesterday just in time to suit up for the game.
"Sometimes someone who is out there doing the mucking is going to get a goal," said Nelson, who scored for the first time in the NHL.
Boston's goal also came from an unexpected quarter. It was defenseman Alexei Kasatonov, with 11:25 gone in the third, who
tied the game on his first goal of the season.
Boston ... 0 0 1 -- 1
Washington 0 1 1 -- 2
First period--No scoring. Penalties--Cote, Was, major-game misconduct (checking from behind), 6:08; Murray, Bos (high-sticking), 12:42; Ruhloff, Bos (holding), 19:00.
Second period--1, Washington, Nelson 1 (Klee), 4:24. Penalties--Murray, Bos (hooking), 18:09; Khristich, Was (holding), 18:28.
Third period--2, Boston, Kasatonov 1 (Oates, Donato), 11:25. 3, Washington, Miller 7 (Tinordi, Hunter), 17:59. Penalty--Klee, Was (interference), 9:12.
Shots on goal--Boston 6-9-11--26. Washington 7-4-4--15. Power-play opportunities--Boston 0 of 3; Washington 0 of 3. Goalies--Boston, Lacher 14-8-1 (15 shots-13 saves). Washington, Carey 12-2-2 (26-25). A--16,223 (18,130). Referee--Mark Faucette. Linesmen--Gord Broseker, Dan Schachte.