One For The Ages – The announced attendance for tonight’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series between the Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens was 18,377.
Years from now, twice as many will say they were here for this one.
On the verge of digging an 0-2 hole in the series with the scene shifting to Montreal for Game 3 on Monday, the Capitals staged a wild and furious comeback that culminated with a Nicklas Backstrom game-winner and a 6-5 Washington triumph at the 31-second mark of overtime. The goal gave Backstrom the first hat trick of his NHL career – regular season or playoffs – and enabled the Caps to even the series at 1-1 against the demoralized Canadiens.
Twice earlier this season, the Caps got game-tying goals in the final minute of contests against the Canadiens on Montreal ice. In one of those games, Washington roared back from a three-goal third-period deficit only to lose 6-5 in overtime. That prior comeback experience against the Canadiens helped fuel Washington’s rally tonight.
“Just to keep pushing,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin when asked what he told his teammates. “In the third period, I think we dominate them. I think our forecheck was good today, especially in the third. I just said keep pushing, we are going to win this game.”
Already down 1-0 in the series after Thursday’s overtime loss in Game 1, the Caps fell into an early 2-0 hole when Montreal scored on each of its first two shots of the game. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau pulled goaltender Jose Theodore in favor of Semyon Varlamov at that point, and Eric Fehr’s breakaway goal helped get the Caps to within one at 2-1 after the first frame.
Two Montreal goals in the second half of the second stanza gave the Habs a seemingly solid 4-1 lead. But Backstrom’s first of the night came just 39 seconds after Montreal had gone ahead by three, putting some life back into what had been a quiet building.
Alex Ovechkin brought the Caps to within a goal when he jammed home his first of the playoffs at 2:56 of the third.
Seconds after Ovechkin’s goal, Caps defenseman Tom Poti accepted a somewhat curious (given the game situation) invitation to fight from the Habs’ Scott Gomez. Poti’s scrap seemed to spark the Caps. They had the Habs on their heels most of the rest of the way.
Backstrom evened it up at 4-4 less than seven minutes later with his second of the night.
Dread settled in again when Tomas Plekanec pinballed one past Varlamov with just 5:06 remaining in regulation. The Caps couldn’t cash in on a late power play, but there was a hero lurking in the tall grass for Washington.
With the clock ticking down, Varlamov looking to the bench for a signal to vacate and the Caps about to go on another power play via a delayed penalty call, Washington’s John Carlson scored the first goal of his NHL playoff career with 1:21 left to get the Caps into overtime in a 5-5 deadlock.
“There’s just something about him,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of Carlson. “I mean, glory follows him. Some guys get that. I’ve said it before. They come up in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and they’re the ones that do the damage. I think John Carlson in his career is going to be like that.”
Backstrom wasted no time in the extra session. His game-winning wrister from the high slot put an end to the proceedings and sent the home crowd home happy.
“He had a good game,” says Boudreau of Backstrom. Nicky’s a great player. Great players come to the floor when you need them. Same as [Michael] Cammalleri did for them tonight and [Tomas] Plekanec and [Tom] Poti, Nicky, Carlson did for us.”
Backstrom’s hat trick was the seventh in Washington’s postseason history.
Big Game From The Big Boys – With four points each, both Backstrom and Ovechkin fell a point shy of matching Alan Haworth’s single-game playoff record of five points, set in an 8-1 Washington win over the Rangers on April 19, 1986.
The Caps’ top trio totaled nine points (four goals, five assists) on the night.
Deuces Are Wild – For the second time in as many Stanley Cup playoff series involving the Capitals, a pair of hat tricks – one for each side – were recorded in Game 2.
In Game 2 of last spring’s Eastern Conference Semifinal Series with Pittsburgh, Ovechkin and the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby each scored three times in a 4-3 Washington win.
This time around, Backstrom and Montreal’s Andrei Kostitsyn scored three times in another playoff thriller at Verizon Center.
Over The Overtime Hump? – Coming into tonight’s game, the Caps had some dubious overtime history in their past.
The Caps were 15-22 all-time in Stanley Cup playoff overtime games, but they were just 2-9 since 2000 and just 1-8 at home since 1991. Washington was 6-10 all-time in home overtimes and 9-12 on the road.
They put another big “W” in the left-hand column of those numbers tonight.
Dropping ‘Em – Poti’s scrap with Gomez was the third of his NHL career and his first in the postseason. His previous came while he was a member of the New York Rangers on Feb. 23, 2004. That fight was also against the Canadiens, Habs defenseman Francis Bouillon to be exact.
Gomez started tonight’s bout with a sucker punch left that may have glanced Poti, but the Caps’ defenseman finished strong.
Poti’s other NHL fight came on Dec. 17, 1999 when he fought the Stars’ Jamie Langenbrunner while playing with Edmonton.
Relief Effort – Varlamov entered tonight’s game with a 2-1 record, a 1.24 GAA and a .943 save pct. in three career relief efforts, all in the regular season. He stopped 19 of the 22 shots he faced in earning the relief win tonight.
Can’t Keep A Good Man Down – Thursday night’s Game 1 marked just the fourth time in 418 career games (regular season and playoffs) that Ovechkin had been held without a shot on goal in a game. Including tonight’s game, he has now notched a goal in each of the four games after those shotless games, and he has totaled five goals and 10 points in those four contests.
Ovechkin fired half a dozen shots on goal in Game 2.
Solving Halak – Halak stopped 54 of the first 57 shots (.947 save pct.) in this series. The Caps dented him for five goals on the next 27 shots (.815) they poured his way.
“I thought our goaltending was solid,” says Habs bench boss Jacques Martin. “When you look at the goals, the last two goals, for instance, it’s a situation where we let them penetrate the zone, uneven man rush.
“I think that the tying goal was probably a key goal because I think once we got the fifth goal we’re in good shape and I think there was going to be a penalty call and it seems like it froze our players and we gave them the blue line and it was a good shot that beat him. A very similar situation on the winning goal, similar to the one [Tomas] Plekanec scored in overtime the other night.”
Missed It By That Much – Kostitsyn’s four-point game fell a single point shy of matching the all-time Montreal standard for most points in a road game. The mark is held by Hockey Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur, who had five points (two goals, three assists) in an 8-0 win over the Red Wings in Detroit on April 23, 1978.
Long Time Coming – Kostitsyn’s hat trick was the first in the playoffs by a Montreal player since Eric Desjardins bagged three goals in a game on June 3, 1993.
Good Company – In Thursday’s Game 1, Halak became the first Canadiens goaltender since Hockey Hall of Famer George Hainsworth to record his first Stanley Cup win in an overtime game. Hainsworth turned the trick in March, 1927.
Happy Birthday – To Dennis Hextall of the hockey-playing Hextalls. Born on this day in 1943, Dennis Hextall concluded his 12-year NHL career in the District in 1979-80. TO Hockey Hall of Famer and European NHL pioneer Borje Salming, born on this day in 1951. And finally, to the late Tommy Williams, born on this day in 1940. Williams was a member of the 1960 Gold Medal U.S. Olympic Team, the lone U.S.-born player in the NHL for many years, an original member of the expansion Capitals in 1974-75 and an original personality.
By The Numbers – The Capitals outhit the Habs 18-4 in the first period, with Ovechkin delivering seven of those body blows. Washington finished the game with a 28-16 advantage in hits … Washington fired 31 shots (13 on goal, 11 that were blocked, and seven that missed) in the first period to Montreal’s 14 (eight on goal, four blocked, two missed). At night’s end, the Caps doubled up the Habs 85-42 in shots attempted. Washington led 34-9 in shots attempted in the last 20:31 of the contest … Ovechkin paced the Caps with eight hits on the night. Jaroslav Spacek led the Habs with five hits … Montreal’s Roman Hamrlik led all skaters on both sides with seven blocked shots …
Down On The Farm – A night after winning Game 2 of their first-round series with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at Giant Center, the AHL Hershey Bears gave the Sound Tigers a sound 7-2 thumping at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport.
After a scoreless first frame, the Bears ran up half a dozen unanswered strikes in the second period. Andrew Gordon had a hat trick for Hershey, Alexandre Giroux scored twice (and added two assists) and Steve Pinizzotto and Kyle Wilson added single tallies for the Bears. Centers Keith Aucoin and Mathieu Perreault each had three assists on the night.