In Varly We Trust. At least that is what Washington Capitals fans think should be printed on their currency as their money goaltender, Semyon Varlamov (36 saves), turned in another stellar performance at the Bell Centre in Montreal to lead the Caps to a 6-3 victory that puts the Canadiens on the brink of elimination. Washington leads the first round series, three games to one, and can wrap things up Friday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. If not for #40’s second period, however, the Capitals are probably coming home all tied up.
Alexander Ovechkin notched two goals and an assist and Mike Knuble had two tallies, including a shorthanded momentum turning one timer off of a perfect Boyd Gordon saucer pass with just 11 seconds left in the middle stanza. Montreal had buzzed the Caps net all period long firing 21 shots on goal (and scoring once on a fluky bounce off of the back boards), but when #22 swatted it home to tie it up, the Capitals were in position to take a commanding lead in the series.
“That goal was big..we knew we’d only have to play a good twenty minutes to win at that point,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau after the victory.
“I think it was a pretty good goal. We play great shorthanded…[Boyd Gordon] Gordo, what can you say about him? He is such a hard working guy,” added Ovechkin on the tally that was the turning point in this contest.
The third period was all Capitals as they fired 20 shots on Carey Price (32 saves on 36 shots) but it finally took an Alexander Semin appearance to put Washington ahead with 8:51 remaining. #28 carried the puck up the left wing boards at the end of a long shift, and making his best play of the series, he drew the Habs defenseman to him and slid a pass to the Great #8. From there it was like fishing in your momma’s barrel as Ovechkin flew down the slot and got a quick shot off before Price could get set. The goal put the Caps up 3-2 and stunned the Montreal fans as well as their team.
“Semin was on the ice because of a line change, so I can’t take credit for [putting him with Ovechkin]…they like playing together and they look for each other,” said Boudreau on the third Caps goal.
Montreal was clearly still stunned and when Matt Bradley made a strong play behind the Montreal net and then slid the puck across the crease, Jason Chimera was there to bang it home to make it 4-2 just 52 seconds after the Great #8 tally.
To close out the game the Caps played very smart hockey down the stretch, for the most part, sandwiching two empty net tallies around a bad decision by Tyler Sloan at the Caps blue line. #89, who struggled on a few shifts, slid too close to the left wings boards and that led to a two on one rush which resulted in a Dominic Moore backhanded goal with 78 seconds left.
Here is the rest of the analysis from a victory that gives Ovechkin and company their first 3-1 series lead in their four post season matchups:
Varlamov is now 4-0 at the Bell Centre in his career and looks more and more like the guy who helped the Caps advance to the second round last post season. However, he has a much better glove hand now thanks to some honing of his craft. Varly and goaltending Coach Arturs Irbe have turned what was once a weakness for #40 into an area that was on spectacular display on Wednesday night. It seems it is much more difficult to go upstairs glove side on the young Russian goalie nowadays.
Ovechkin, after being held pointless in the series opener, now has four goals and four assists in the last three games. He was very solid on Wednesday dishing out four hits and his first tally was a power play marker that broke an 0 for 15 drought by the Caps with the man advantage in this series. Boudreau likes to say “Great players make great plays in big games” and the Great #8 did that again this evening scoring the first and third goals. The Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Knuble line was a combined +10. Backstrom had an empty net goal and two assists.
The first two Caps power plays were pretty good but the third one was nearly disastrous. According to Boudreau, Semin waved his stick up to come off the ice and as a result Eric Fehr jumped into the play. But then #28 decided to play the puck and the Caps, who were hoping to get a power play tally to even the game up, instead were called for too many men on the ice and were forced to go shorthanded. It was a boneheaded decision by Semin and he should be buying Gordon and Knuble dinners for the rest of the playoffs for not only killing the bad penalty, but scoring the game tying goal. Semin was not good tonight, except for those nine seconds when he was on the ice with Ovechkin for the third goal.
Montreal scored a power play tally for the fourth straight game (1 for 4) but it gave up a shorthanded goal for the second time in two contests. Washington has been very aggressive on the PK and it has forced the Habs to take shots from bad angles, for the most part. Their only connection was a Brian Gionta put back of a Andrei Markov point blast that banked hard off of the end boards.
What a two game set for Gordon in Montreal, eh? #15 was 8-4 on face-offs in this tilt to go with 13-2 on Monday. He had the shorthanded goal on Monday and then set up Knuble for his PK tally tonight. Gordon and Knuble are a potent penalty killing combo.
Puck possession is made a lot easier when you win the face-offs and Washington dominated from the dot again, going 39-26, on the road, no less. Backstrom was 12-9 while Eric Belanger was 12-7.
Joe Corvo took a cheap shot to the head from Maxim Lapierre in the first period but managed to still log 17:44 of ice time. #77 played one of his stronger games in a Caps uniform and if not for Sloan’s poor play on the third Montreal goal he is a +1.
Speaking of cheap shots and tempers, Price was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after the fourth Caps goal for firing the puck out of the net at Washington. Then he hacked at the back of Backstrom’s legs after #19 deposited the biscuit in the basket on the Caps last empty net tally. Clearly Ovechkin and company are in this goalie’s head.
Notes: Brendan Morrison, who was +25 on the road coming into Wednesday’s game, was an uncharacteristic -2 in the victory in just 9:17 of ice time…Tom Poti was +3 and John Carlson +2 on the blue line…final shots on goal totals were 39 for Montreal and 38 for the Caps but there were wild swings (MTL had 21-9 edge in 2nd pd while Caps had 20-6 advantage in 3rd pd)…Cap killer Tomas Plekenac was held pointless and went -2…Shaone Morrisonn missed the game (either hurt or sick) while d-man Jaroslav Spacek was unable to go for the Habs…Good news down on the farm: The Hershey Bears dominated the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NY Islanders AHL team) outshooting them, 34-7, in a 4-1 victory. Karl Alzner scored his first playoff goal this post season and Michal Neuvirth stopped six, yes only six shots, en route to the series clincher. The Bears won the series four games to one and will take on the Albany River Rats (Carolina’s AHL team) in round two starting on Saturday night at 7pm at the Giant Center.