Game 5, Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series (Caps lead series, 3-1)
April 23 vs. Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: CSN HD, TSN Radio: Caps Radio 106.7 FM, Fox 1370 AM, WFED 1500 and 920 and XM Pregame: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. and Two-Man Advantage pre-game show at 3:00 p.m., both on www.washingtoncaps.com
Montreal Canadiens (39-33-10, 88 points)
Washington Capitals (54-15-13, 121 points)
The last time the Montreal Canadiens’ skates graced the Verizon Center ice, the Habs were less than 90 seconds away from going up 2-0 in the series and heading back to Montreal for some home cooking and Games 3 and 4.
Now, as they prepare for Friday’s Game 5, the Habs are 60 minutes away from the possible end of their season, needing three straight wins – including two on District ice – in order to advance.
“I’m happy to be up 3-1 but I don’t think the job is anywhere near done yet,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “And if the players think that way, then we’re in trouble. You can look at all the games – except maybe Game 3 – and say they could have gone either way at any point in time.”
The Caps staged a late comeback in Game 2, tying the game on John Carlson’s goal with 81 seconds left in regulation and then evening the series at 1-1 on Nicklas Backstrom’s overtime goal. Those two Caps tallies came less than two minutes apart, and they ultimately altered the series.
Game 2 also altered the course of the series because Caps starting goaltender Jose Theodore was pulled after surrendering two goals on as many shots in the first period. Semyon Varlamov came on in relief of Theodore, and he has collected three wins in as many games. Varlamov started and won both games in Montreal, and was named the game’s No. 1 star in both contests. The 21-year-old Russian rookie was brilliant for long stretches of both games, keeping his team close until the Washington offense could unleash its collective fury on Montreal’s netminder du jour.
Washington won both games in Montreal and is now poised to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinal if it can win just one of the next three games. The Capitals would prefer to put a close to this business on Friday, forgoing the need to travel to Montreal for a possible Game 6 on Monday.
“When you come away from that building and win two games, it’s impossible to go any better,” says Boudreau. “That was our goal and luckily we survived it and came back.”
“We’ve had a good road record the last two years. It’s almost similar to the home record whereas we play the same way all the time. [Montreal’s] building is awful tough to play in. It’s an intimidating building. I thought our guys hung in for the first period really well and then Varly took over in the second. Some teams are just good road teams. I don’t know what makes us a good road team, because we’re not overly physical. Usually the road teams that are really good are the teams that are big and tough and don’t get intimidated by anybody. I think it’s the character of the group.”
Varlamov stopped 20 of the franchise-record tying 21 shots he faced in the second period. He is 3-0 with a 2.44 GAA and a .920 save pct. in the series.
“We got kind of lucky tonight,” admitted Caps left wing Jason Chimera after the Caps’ 6-3 win in Game 4, a contest in which they trailed 2-1 late in the second period. “Varly kind of stole us one in the first two periods. With any luck on their side it could have been a 2-2 series. We played a good third period, that was probably the only good thing. But the first two periods, Varly stole the show.”
Theodore outplayed his Montreal counterpart – Jaroslav Halak – in Game 1, the only game the Habs have won in this series. Varlamov’s excellence has ensured that Washington has had the goaltending edge in all four games, something many would not have predicted going into the series.
Montreal coach Jacques Martin will be faced with another dilemma as to which goaltender should start Game 5 for his team. Halak started the first three games, but was chased in Game 3. Price started Game 4, but was bruised for three of more goals for the 11th time in his last 12 playoff appearances. Halak has a 4.07 GAA and an .887 save pct. in the series while Price is at 4.00 and .898.
It looks like a pick ‘em.
Washington’s top line has had no trouble tuning up whichever goaltender Montreal has offered. The Caps’ top trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble has combined for 11 goals and 22 points in the first four games of the series.
Although he assisted on Ovechkin’s go-ahead goal in the third period of Game 4, Washington winger Alexander Semin has been otherwise silent in the series. Semin has just that lone assist in four games and he has not found the back of the net in his last 11 playoff contests.
“I think that there is room for improvement,” says Boudreau of Semin. “He definitely hasn’t shown the hockey world how well he can play when he is on top of his game and I don’t know what the reason is. I know he wants to win and he wants to play well, it just hasn’t transferred in to points and into successful scoring opportunities.”