BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins had plenty of good reasons to want to beat the Washington Capitals in a matinee on Saturday.
Remember, it was the Capitals who, on their last previous visit to TD Garden, knocked the Bruins out of the playoffs in the first round last spring, and it was the Caps who came back from an 0-3 deficit to beat Boston in Washington on March 5.
More? OK, the Bruins were coming off a poor performance in a victory over floundering Florida on Thursday night, and this was the final home game before a season-high five-game trip that starts Sunday with a big game against the Penguins.
It all resulted in a strong home effort as the Bruins' so-called top line broke out of a slump with all four goals in a 4-1 victory that sent the struggling Capitals to their fourth loss in five games.
"As I said to our players before, what's happened against that team in the last year, there's no reason why we shouldn't be ready to play them tonight," Bruins coach Claude Julien said after his team improved to 11-2-1 in its last 14 games.
"We've got to start playing closer to our identity and it's about putting pucks in, forechecking, it's about being physical, it's about being aggressive in more areas and more or less playing a north-south type of game, and I thought we did that tonight," Julien said.
And the play of the top line, which has struggled for much of the lockout-delayed season, was huge in this game.
Nathan Horton and David Krejci each had a goal and two assists, and Milan Lucic posted a career-high three assists.
Perhaps even more important to the coach were eight hits by the trio, four by Lucic, who hasn't scored in 11 games but had his first points in four games.
And Horton wasn't done with only scoring, completing his "Gordie Hat Trick" with a fight in the final seconds of the second period. He said after the game that he couldn't recall ever having all three in the same game, but was happy to see his line going.
Horton, talking about Lucic, whose hard work behind the net set up the first two goals said: "I think everybody gets up, feeding off his personality. When we're putting it in the right spots, he's getting to the pucks. Guys are scared of him. He gets them."
The Bruins moved, at least temporarily, into first place in the Northeast Division (the Canadiens were playing at New Jersey at night) and will visit Pittsburgh with the teams battling for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Horton, who scored his first goal in nine games, No. 8 overall, also set up goals by Krejci (No. 7) and defenseman Andrew Ference (No. 1).
Rich Peverley then beat Michal Neuvirth off a scramble for a power play goal early in the third period, Krejci's assist on that goal being his 300th NHL point.
It was Peverley's fourth goal, his first since moving to center after the injury to Chris Kelly.
The only goal allowed by Boston backup goalie Anton Khudobin (32 saves) was put in by his own team, also by the top Boston line.
Krejci tried to clear a puck in front of the net, but it hit the left skate of defenseman Johnny Boychuk and went past the surprised goalie.
Marcus Johansson, the last Capital to touch the puck, got credit for his second goal of the season, making it 2-1 before Ference scored later in the second period.
Other than the flukey bounce, Khudobin was perfect in lifting his record to 5-2. Four of the shots on goal were by Alex Ovechkin, who was rendered fairly powerless by the Boston attack.
Boychuk even being out there for the period was a surprise after he hobbled off following a collision with teammate Daniel Paille and had to be helped down the runway because of a left leg injury in the first period. He returned later in the period and got nicked again, this time when hit by an Ovechkin shot.
The Bruins improved their record to 18-0 when holding the opposition to two goals or fewer, and killed three penalties to run their third streak of 20 straight kills or more this season to 25 in a row.
The game was chippy, with three fights breaking out, Washington's Matt Hendricks being involved in two of them.
On the second fight, Hendricks had a choice of Adam McQuaid or Shawn Thornton and stayed away from the Boston tough guy.
"I won't comment on it," Thornton said. "I think everybody saw it; that's probably enough."
Washington coach Adam Oates, asked about the two Bruins on his man, said: "I think that's wrong. He clearly didn't want to fight Thornton and the other guy came over and made it a very, very difficult situation."