Stifled – Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec fired a laser from the high slot that whizzed past Washington netminder Jose Theodore at 13:19 of overtime to give the Canadiens a 3-2 win and a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series between the Caps and Habs on Thursday night at Verizon Center.
It was the second time in just over two months that Plekanec victimized Theodore in overtime; the Canadiens center scored with eight seconds left in the extra session on Feb. 10 in Montreal to give the Habs a 6-5 win. That game put a halt to Washington’s franchise-record 14-game winning streak.
The Caps came out strong in the first, using their size and speed to outplay the Canadiens. Washington looked exactly like a team that had been chomping at the bit for the start of the playoffs. But despite carrying the play and outshooting the Habs by 19-7 in the first 20 minutes, the game was even at 1-1. And that was a victory for the visitors at that stage of the contest.
“We’re happy with the win,” exuded Habs forward Mike Cammalleri afterwards. “”If you look at the game, especially in the first, [the Caps] created a lot fo chances. They were definitely the powerhouse we expected and showed us what they could do in that first period. I thought [Habs goaltender Jaroslav Halak] played really well. We were able to capitalize on a few and get a big victory for ourselves. They came with a lot.”
After weathering the first-period storm against Washington, Montreal regained its footing in the middle stanza. The small – but swift and skilled – Canadiens forwards made life difficult for the Caps in the Washington end. The home team had troubled clearing its end and making clean breakout passes and it took some stellar stops from Theodore to keep the game knotted at 1-1.
After killing off a Joe Corvo holding call late in the second and early in the third, the Caps grabbed their first lead of the postseason when Nicklas Backstrom took a neat feed from Mike Knuble and beat Halak. The goal came just 47 seconds into the third.
Just under seven minutes later, Montreal’s Scott Gomez scored on the rush, making a pass to Benoit Pouliot and then going to the net to take a feed from Brian Gionta and tap it into a yawning cage.
The Habs outshot the Caps 31-28 after the first and their failure to get the puck deep led to Plekanec’s goal.
“We were screwing around with (the puck) instead of taking it back and setting it up and coming out,” laments Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I think when Joe (Corvo) threw it across the ice, it got redirected and Alex (Ovechkin) was changing and Nicky (Backstrom) got beat and Mike Knuble was caught on the other end of the boards. They came up and our defense was caught in transition so they backed up so (Thomas) Plekanec got a chance to walk into the top of the circle and he had a perfect shot.”
Tough Night – Caps captain Alex Ovechkin has 11 goals and 24 points in 20 career regular season games against the Canadiens, but he found the sledding much, much tougher tonight. Going up against the most experienced blueline corps among the eight Eastern Conference playoff entrants, Ovechkin was held without a shot on goal in his 26:26 of work. He had five shots blocked and missed the net with three other attempts.
Ovechkin had one missed shot in the first period, a stanza in which Washington teed up 34 shots as a team and got 19 of them on goal. In the second, he had three shots blocked and one miss. He had no shots attempted whatsoever in the third period of a tight game, and he had two bids blocked and one that missed in the extra session.
Tonight's tilt marked the first time ever (including both regular season and playoffs) that Ovechkin had been held without both a shot and a point in a game, and just teh fourth time he had been held without a shot on goal.
What, Us, Worry? – Washington has won five of the nine playoffs series in its history in which it has lost Game 1.
Overwhelmed in Overtime – Overtime has not historically been kind to the Caps in the postseason, particularly on the Verizon Center sheet. The Caps are now 15-22 all-time in playoff overtime games, but those numbers are more grisly in recent years.
Washington has lost seven of its last eight and nine of its last 11 postseason overtime games. The Caps have lost six of the seven overtime playoff games they have played at Verizon Center and each of the last five.
The Capitals’ only overtime playoff win at Verizon Center came on May 25, 1998 when Todd Krygier scored to give the Caps a 3-2 win over Buffalo in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was the last goal of Krygier’s NHL career.
Happy Birthday – To short-term (six games) Cap Keith Acton, born on this day in 1958. And to recent vintage Cap and all-around good guy Brian Pothier, born on this day in 1977.
By The Numbers – The Caps outhit the Habs, 37-24 … Montreal defenseman Hal Gill led all players on both sides with nine blocked shots … Ovechkin, Shoane Morrisonn and David Steckel were the only Caps not to register a shot on goal in the game … Steckel paced the Caps with six hits, logging those in just 14:23 of ice time … Mike Green led the Caps with eight blocked shots … Eric Belanger led all face-off men with a surreal 18-for-21 (86%) night on draws … The Capitals took 45 of 71 face-offs (63%) on the night.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears got a leg up in their best-of-seven opening round series with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at Giant Center on Wednesday night. Down 3-1 late in the third period, Hershey rallied to even the score on goals by Francois Bouchard and Mathieu Perreault in the game’s final six minutes of regulation.
Andrew Joudrey won it for the Bears in overtime, making a winner of Braden Holtby (21 saves) in the first pro playoff start for the latter.
Game 2 is Friday night at Giant Center with Michal Neuvirth the likely starter in goal for Hershey.
1 - 0 MTL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH
2 - 2 Tie
1st OT Period
3 - 2 MTL