Caps killer Tomas Plekenac scored from the slot 13:19 into overtime to give the Montreal Canadiens a 3-2 victory in the opening game of their best of seven game series with the Washington Capitals. Plekenac, who scored the game winner in OT against the Capitals on February 10th to end Washington’s club record 14 game winning streak, was sprung on a 3 on 2 break by Jaroslav Spacek and when Shaone Morrisonn was pulled too far over to the right wing boards, #14 cut to the slot, was given far too much room by Caps d-man Joe Corvo, and snapped a laser by Jose Theodore. Game two is Saturday night at the Verizon Center at 7pm.
Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes and analysis of the first ever playoff game between these two teams:
Washington had 47 shots on Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak (45 saves) and Alexander Ovechkin had none of them. The Great #8 simply did not have a good game and I would put Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom in that same category. #19 did score to give the Caps the lead in the third period, but on a 3 on 1 break in overtime, in which the Swede had the puck coming off of the right wing boards, Washington would fail to get off a shot. Semin had 6 shots on net but he missed wide on several good chances and also was careless with the puck on numerous occassions. The Great #8 had five shots blocked and three others that missed the net. Ovechkin was too predictable coming down the left wing and Montreal did a good job of taking his space away. Simply put, if the Caps want to come back and win this series these three guys must play alot better and it starts with the guy wearing the “C.”
“He didn’t play good. I mean, they gapped up on him really well, but I don’t think Alex played very well. I can’t put my finger on it right now, but when you get 50 shots on goal and Ovechkin doesn’t get any and you have four power plays, they took him away pretty good, but I just didn’t think he was very good tonight,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the play of Washington’s leader.
Theodore (35 saves) had a decent performance and it was hard to fault him on any of the three tallies he allowed. Jose did a nice job of not giving up big rebounds and he was superb at freezing the puck on several occassions when Washington was running around in their own end.
“I thought he was good. I thought he kept us in. In the first period we were really good. In the second period, when they were putting a big push on, he made some big saves to keep it a tied game,” added Boudreau on #60.
As Boudreau mentioned, the Caps were very good in the first period outshooting Montreal 19-7 by playing their system and taking away time and space from the Habs. But thanks to Halak, and Washington’s lack of desire to go hard to the net, the opening stanza ended in a 1-1 tie. After the first period the Canadiens carried most of the play as the Caps, when they received opportunities to make things happen, often turned the puck over due to overpassing and being in the all too familiar “too cute mode.” Washington’s two goals came as a result of going to the cage and creating traffic in front of Halak. Joe Corvo scored on a floater to tie this one up at one thanks to some hard work by Matt Bradley, Eric Belanger, and Jason Chimera. The Caps had two skaters in front of the net and #41, therefore, had no way to see the shot. The second goal was on a rush where Washington drove to the net. But there weren’t many other moments where the Caps were willing to pay the price to go to the paint area to get rewarded, and thus a big reason for the defeat.
“You can’t fault Jose. We didn’t execute. We need to play better and harder all the way around. We need to bear down a little more right around the net,” said Caps forward Mike Knuble, who notched an assist on Backstrom’s goal.
Special teams played a role in the Montreal victory as they scored first on a Mike Cammalleri blast with Backstrom in the box for a retaliation penalty. #19, after getting his feet taken out in the corner, then cross checked the Habs player and was correctly sent off. The Canadiens went 1 for 4 with the man advantage while Washington was blanked in their four chances. Once again, the problem was trying for the perfect play instead of shooting and going for rebounds in front. Credit should also go to Montreal for getting in the passing lanes and blocking shots.
“They know you can’t do it, but every now and then you make a mistake. Nicky (Backstrom) retaliated and you can count on one hand how many times Nicky’s retaliated this year. I think it was an honest play. With (Alexander) Semin, he just knows he can’t do the lift the stick on the hands. He caught him on the hands. We had already had a power play so you knew they were going to get one. It was a bad play by him,” commented the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner on the penalties his club took.
At the end of a long night, this was just one game in what shapes up to be a very close series. Game two clearly becomes more important for Washington as they do not want to go down two games heading into Montreal for Monday’ night’s tilt. The Caps, after a film session tomorrow with their coaches, will know what needs to be done to get a victory, but the question is, are they willing to pay the physical price for it?
Notes: Corvo (17:40 of ice time) did not see a regular shift in OT likely due to a shot he took in the hand earlier in the game…Rookie John Carlson, (1 assist in 21:56) despite making a couple of giveaways due to bad reads, had a very good first NHL playoff game and arguably could have been labeled the Caps best defenseman on Thursday night…Belanger was 18-3 on face-offs and the Caps overall won the battle at the dot, 45-26…In the history of the franchise, the Capitals have won five of nine playoff series in which they have lost Game 1…The Capitals have played 37 overtime games in their playoff history, and fell to 15-22 all-time in playoff overtime games.