After game one of their best of seven game series against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, a 3-2 overtime defeat, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau stated that his top players, particularly Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green, needed to be better for his club to win. On Saturday night, Ovechkin and Backstrom stepped up big time to rally the Caps from a late 4-1 second period deficit to an absolutely thrilling, come from behind victory, in overtime, 6-5. Backstrom had a hat trick plus an assist and netted the game winner just 31 seconds into the extra period. The Great #8 (1 goal, 3 assists), came out hitting everything in sight (had 7 hits in the first period alone) and looked energized all evening, but it took until the last 23 minutes of this one for him to start producing on the scoresheet. It was a wild affair and the Caps won their first playoff overtime game at home since a 3-2 OT win against Buffalo on May 25, 1998, ending a five-game losing streak in overtimes at the Verizon Center.
Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, stats, and analysis of a game that was very important for Washington to win and will be labeled an “Instant Classic”:
After getting 47 shots, mostly from the perimeter in game one, Washington made a much more concerted effort to storm the crease to gain in close chances on Canadiens goalie, Jaroslav Halak (31 saves). In addition, Boudreau wanted the Caps to get the puck deep, cycle Montreal’s defense, and throw the puck on net for chances in the slot or to create some rebound opportunities. The Capitals didn’t really start to do this effectively until the game became 4-1 Habs. Washington’s second, third, and fourth goals were all the result of going to the cage. Backstrom’s first tally was a laser from the left wing circle that snuck by Halak due to the traffic Mike Knuble (1 assist) and Ovechkin created, then the Great #8 went to the net and banged home the rebound of a John Carlson point blast, and on the first game tying goal, Ovechkin manhandled the Montreal defense in the right wing boards, then turned and fed #19 for an easy conversion in front of the Slovakian netminder. Suffice it to say that #8 and #19, who were both +3, took this game over in the third period to give Washington a chance to win and then Backstrom sealed the deal in OT.
So much for the longer leash on goalie Jose Theodore, who was yanked for Semyon Varlamov (22 saves) after yielding two goals on two shots, but Boudreau stated afterwards that he was not solely blaming #60 for the bad start and hadn’t made up his mind on a starter for Monday night yet.
“I haven’t really thought about who is playing Monday. It was more of a deflating thing on the bench that I thought we needed the change. The first one [Brian Gionta's goal] was a knuckleball. For your first shot on goal it was a tough one and I thought, we made such a bad play on the second one because [Andrei] Kostitsyn is in between the circles with a wrist shot. So I don’t know in the real world if Theo had much chance on either one of them but I do know that we had expended an awful lot of energy in the first eight minutes of the game and we were down 2-0. So I thought that might be a lift from the crowd and be a lift on the bench. I don’t know if it worked or it didn’t work but we ended up winning,” said Boudreau on his decision making process concerning his goaltenders tonight and going forward.
My comment on this: The change worked and it was the right thing to do. Whether it was #60′s fault or not to that point did not matter, the building was on the verge of imploding and the emergence of #40 definitely provided a spark to the crowd and the Caps.
Varlamov came in and did a very good job and the three pucks that eluded him were on his porous defense. Speaking of poor defensive play, you can hang that on Mike Green and Jeff Schultz who were the defensive pair on the ice for the Caps on the second, third, fourth, and fifth Montreal goals. #52 and #55, who were a combined +89 in the regular season, struggled horribly in their own end on Saturday. They made bad decisions, turned the puck over in the wrong places at the wrong time, and did a poor job of protecting their goalies from quality chances. On the second goal that got by Theodore, Green and Schultz backed up, giving Kostitsyin (3 goals, 1 assist) all of the time in the world to rip one by #60 to end his short night.
“I didn’t say anything during the game. We’ll talk to them about a couple of things. One, sometimes you’ve got to eliminate the body and box out rather than try to get pucks. Mike has gone for the puck twice now in the last two games and both times he’s missed and the guys have scored, at inopportune times. So we’ll watch video and they’ll learn from it and they’ll be better,” commented the 2007-08 Jack Adams trophy winner on how we was going to approach the performance by his top D-pair on Saturday night.
There were some big time momentum shifts in this contest, but none more so than when Montreal scored to make it 4-1 and seemed poised to take control of the series. The goal itself was a weird one in which Jaroslav Spacek took a slapshot from near the center of the point and it hit Schultz, then Kostitsyin and finally Green before sliding by Varly for a power play marker. But instead of the Caps being deflated by a weird goal, they caught a break when a review from Toronto ensued. Initially everyone thought they were reviewing that goal for a high stick, but it turns out they were checking to see if the Habs had scored earlier on that same power play. Had they done so the time would have been reset on the clock back to that tally. It took a good three plus minutes to sort out and it was determined that there was no previous goal so, in essence, Boudreau and his troops had a chance to get their act together. On the ensuing shift Backstrom would tally just 39 seconds later to make it 4-2 heading into the third period.
“Our bench was pretty quiet. I think our guys knew what we had to do. Coach didn’t say anything, we all just kind of put our heads down to focus and try to regroup and I thought we were better after that,” said Fehr, who scored high blocker side on Halak on a breakaway to make it 2-1 in the first period.
“I think that gave us a minute to just breathe a little bit. They came at us hard and obviously we went down a bit. We just had to breathe and not worry too much about that and go back and make our push now, and that is what we did,” said Carlson, who made a great fake to get around a sprawling Montreal defender to fire the puck on net on the Ovechkin goal that made it 4-3.
“You don’t have any choice on that. You could say it did because we were moving, but that the [next] shift wasn’t a good one and it cost us,” responded Montreal coach Jacques Martin when I asked him if the lengthy review hurt the momentum Montreal had, at that point. It was a review, in hindsight, he probably wished never happened, but that is the breaks.
Special teams once again played a factor in this game and Montreal had the upper hand in that category again. The Habs went 1 for 3 with the man advantage while the Caps were 0 for 3. The Canadiens had the best road power play in the regular season and it easy to see why. They move the puck well, get traffic in front of the opposing goalie, and they have several guys with super shots. Washington, which had the best overall power play in the regular season connecting on over 25% of their manpower advantages, are now 0 for 7 in the series. Backstrom provided some insight into the lack of power play production for Washington.
“I feel like Montreal is doing a pretty good job but we have to work a little bit harder. They are taking Alex [Ovechkin] away and we have to find another way to score. I feel like we had pretty good opportunities and we just have to have some traffic in front of the net and maybe shoot on the net..we still have to just keep working. It’s gonna go in sooner or later,” said #19, who is leading the NHL playoffs in points and goals so far.
I am not sure what is going on with Semin, but he played poorly in both games. He had 11 shots on goal in the two contests but he made numerous careless plays with the puck, took a bad penalty in each contest, and is not driving hard to the net. In addition, he allowed Spacek to get the big point shot off that resulted in the Habs fourth goal. Last week Boyd Gordon (scratched on Saturday) told me that an objective for Washington’s forwards on the penalty kill is to make the opposing team take shots from bad angles. #28 did not do that on this penalty kill. Simply put, Semin needs to step it up for Washington to click on all cylinders.
Carlson’s blast to tie the game at five with 1:21 remaining, which came as the officials were calling a delayed penalty, was reminiscent of his gold medal winning tally in the 2010 World Junior Championship game against Team Canada back in January. #74 (1 goal, 1 assist, +2 on Saturday) was Washington’s best d-man in the first two games of this series. He made some giveaways and took a bad gamble on the first Montreal goal, but he is only 20 years old yet is playing at an amazing level. It will be interesting to see how he performs in his first road game in Montreal on Monday night.
Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle, 32-24…Eric Belanger was 11-4 and is now 29-7 from the dot in two games. #18 just needs to get the rest of his game settled down as he is making too many turnovers…Washington outshot Montreal, 37-24, in game two…Ovechkin had 6 shots on goal after being blanked on Thursday…Tom Poti and Scott Gomez fought at the 3:30 mark of the third period and it seemed to add to the momentum that the Caps had been building up to that point (score was 4-3)…Martin felt his goaltending was solid but the Caps seemed to have found a weakness up top on Halak. I won’t be suprised if Carey Price gets into a game soon…The line of Kostitsyin, Tomas Plekenac (1 goal, 1 asssit), and Mike Cammalleri (three assists) was on the ice for seven of the 11 goals in this one (four for Montreal)…I don’t say this very often, but I thought games one and two were very well officiated, although I am sure there will still be people who disagree with me.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Section 410 Host Eric Aaronson on WNST 1570 Baltimore at 1025am on Sunday morning. You can listen live at WNST.NET and the whole interview will be placed in the WNST audio vault afterwards, in case you miss it live.