Two The Hard Way – It wasn’t pretty, but on Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center, the Caps authored a second straight 3-2 shootout win in a game in which they once held a 2-0 lead.
With the victory, Washington moved two points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres into sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings and the Caps also pulled to within two points of the front-running Florida Panthers for the top spot in the Southeast Division.
The Caps grabbed a 2-0 first-period lead on goals from Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle, but the Habs halved that led on an Erik Cole goal with just 21.5 seconds left in the first frame.
Montreal evened the score on a Tomas Plekanec goal in the second, and the Caps were forced to kill off a couple of Canadiens power plays in the third to force the game into overtime.
Once the Caps built their 2-0 lead, they became a bit sloppy and irresponsible with their passing, trying to force passes through seams, making one too many passes at times and getting too cute near the bluelines. Turnovers resulted, and those turnovers helped fuel Montreal’s transition game at times.
Washington was charged with 17 giveaways on the night, and 13 of those were committed after the game’s first 20 minutes.
Fortunately for the Capitals, goaltender Michal Neuvirth was up to the task. He stopped 39 of the 41 shots sent his way, and halted 31 of the 32 he saw after the first period. Montreal outshot the Caps 5-0 in the overtime session.
“He kept us in the game,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter of Neuvirth. “We sat back and gave them some chances and they had a lot of speed on the wings and they burned us a few times. He had to come up big. He had to be sharp. He stepped up when we really needed him.”
Neuvirth earned first star honors for his efforts in the crease, and he raised his record to 13-12-5 on the season.
Nick Of Time – Washington welcomed center Nicklas Backstrom back to the lineup on Saturday after a 40-game absence. Backstrom suffered a concussion in a Jan. 3 game against the Calgary Flames and he had been sidelined ever since.
Backstrom was in the starting lineup, and the crowd responded positively and loudly to his return. The Caps seemed to draw some energy from having him back in the lineup, too, at least for the first 20 minutes.
“Everyone’s pumped,” says Hunter. “You get Nicky Backstrom back. There was a lot of excitement in the room. ”
Washington was 18-16-6 in Backstrom’s absence.
“It was good to be back in the game,” says Backstrom. “I got to play the same way that I usually play. I can’t be worried about getting hit again. That’s what I did from the start and it felt all right, but I can be a little bit better. My lungs were a little bit tired there. ”
Ten-Spot – With tonight’s victory over the Canadiens, the Capitals are now 10-0 in the 10 games this season in which Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Green have all been present in the lineup.
Playing With Fire – Tonight’s game marked the third time in the last five contests that the Capitals took a lead of two or more goals at the start of the game, only to give it back.
Last Friday at Verizon Center, the Caps coughed up a 3-0 advantage against the Winnipeg Jets on their way to a 4-3 overtime setback. On Thursday at Boston, the Capitals forged a 2-0 third-period lead, only to see the Bruins come back to tie the game with two goals of their own in the final four minutes of regulation. The Caps managed to get out of town with a 3-2 shootout win in that one, too.
Tonight, Washington carved out a 2-0 lead after 16;10 of the first, but once again was unable to stand the prosperity.
Cellar Dwellers – Montreal came into tonight’s game in the basement of the Eastern Conference standings, a very unfamiliar spot for the most successful franchise in the league’s history. The last time the Habs finished last in something bigger than a division – i.e. a conference or a league – was in 1939-40 when they brought up the rear in the six-team Original Six with a dismal 10-33-5 record.
After tonight’s game, the Canadiens are four points behind 14th place Toronto in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings. Each team has three games remaining.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hosted the St. John’s Ice Caps on Saturday at Giant Center. The Bears lost, 3-2.
Hershey got goals from Mike Carman and Ryan Potulny and it also got a 22-save effort from Dany Sabourin in goal. Although the Bears lost the game, they did clinch a Calder Cup playoff berth.
Hershey hosts the Binghamton Senators on Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays hosted the Greenville Road Warriors at North Charleston Coliseum a night after taking a 3-2 road decision from the Road Warriors in Greenville on Friday.
The Stingrays got three third-period goals in Saturday’s game to take a 5-2 win over the Road Warriors and make it a clean sweep for the weekend.
Nielsson Arcibal, Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Daniel Koger, Shea Walters and Michael Dorr scored to support Daren Machesney’s 24-save night in the South Carolina nets.
South Carolina finished the regular season with a 37-28-4-3 record, good for seventh place in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference. The stingrays have made the Kelly Cup playoffs 18 times in their 19 seasons in the league.
The Stingrays will face Gwinnett in the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.
By The Numbers – Green led the Capitals with 24:24 in ice time on the night … Ovechkin skated 7:55 of the 10 minutes in which Washington was on the power play. He led the Caps with four shots on net for the night … John Carlson paced the Capitals with five hits … Dennis Wideman led the way with four blocked shots … Marcus Johansson was the only Caps skater not to have a shot on goal in the game … Petteri Nokelainen was the only Habs skater not to record a shot on goal in the game. Nokelainen left the contest with an undisclosed upper body injury after the first and logged just 4:42 in ice time on the night … Matt Hendricks won four of five draws (80%) and Perreault won nine of 13 (69%).