Net Gain – Leading up to tonight’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series, most of the burgeoning throng of media focused on Caps coach Bruce Boudreau’s decision to start rookie goaltender Semyon Varlamov instead of veteran Jose Theodore, who had started the first two games of the series.
It’s a safe bet that the media masses will be directing their netminding queries at the other head coach in this series heading up to Wednesday’s Game 4.
Washington’s four-goal second period chased Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak to the bench in favor of Carey Price. And the offensive outburst paced the Caps to a 5-1 win, enabling Washington to wrest home ice advantage back from the Habs and take a 2-1 lead in the series.
“I think we were working a lot harder,” says Caps right wing Eric Fehr, who was plus-2 with a goal and an assist in just 9:21 worth of ice time. “We were making simple plays. I just think as a team we were moving our feet and that helped us.”
After stopping 54 of the first 57 shots (.947 save pct.) he faced in the series, Halak has been violated for eight goals on 40 shots since (.800 save pct.). Price gave up two goals on the 23 shots he faced.
It will be interesting to see which goalie Habs coach Jacques Martin opts to go with for Wednesday’s Game 4 here in Montreal.
"We tried to change the rhythm of the game and get the momentum back,” says Martin of his decision to pull Halak after the Habs fell into a 3-0 hole at 8:33 of the second period. “There was no message to Jaroslav.”
Halak got nicked for three goals on 13 shots.
Washington scored three times in a span of 7:27 to chase Halak. The Caps baptized Price just over five minutes after he entered the game when Alex Ovechkin notched his second of the playoffs, blasting a one-timer past Price to push Washington’s lead to 4-0.
The two teams played to a scoreless first period, with Varlamov making some strong stops and validating Boudreau’s decision to start him.
"He was really good early,” says Boudreau of Varlamov. “He made two big saves. The one on [Brian] Gionta, on their penalty kill was a really big save and there was another one somewhere in the first period that I thought was very solid. He was very solid in net tonight and he kept us in [the game]."
Washington’s second period spree took the loud home crowd out of the equation.
“It feels good to come into a hostile environment like this and be able to play the game we played,” says Fehr. “We played pretty simple, nothing fancy and we managed to get a win.
“We needed to get on the road and play a full 60 minutes,” says Caps center Eric Belanger. “We did that, and our goaltending was outstanding.
“We knew coming in here there was going to be a lot of electricity in the building. We met their push and we know they were going to have a lot of energy same as we did in the first period in Washington. After the first goal that we scored, [Boyd] Gordon’s goal, I think that was the turning point of the game.”
Leading Men – Heading into tonight’s tilt, the Caps held a lead for just 6:47 of the 133:50 worth of hockey played in the first two games of the series. Tonight, the Caps grabbed the lead early in the second and held it the rest of the way.
Not Tonight – Montreal’s top six forwards did all the offensive damage in the first two games of the series, accounting for all eight of the Hab’s goals in those games. And while Tomas Plekanec scored his third goal of the series and Michael Cammalleri chipped in with his fourth assist on Montreal’s lone goal tonight, that strike came on the power play.
Each member of the Habs’ top trio – Plekanec, Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn – was saddled with a minus-4 on the night.
“I thought they were pretty solid tonight,” says Boudreau of his team’s much-maligned defense. “In the second period, I thought we really did a great job in the neutral zone and created turnovers. I’m sure [the Canadiens] will be better Wednesday about that, and make adjustments. But I thought tonight in the neutral zone we were better.”
Gord’s Gold – Caps center Boyd Gordon appeared to be a healthy scratch to many observers, right up until he was spotted taking some of the line rushes during warm-ups. Boudreau’s decision to re-insert the diligent center into the lineup paid dividends tonight.
Gordon got the Caps on the board first for the first time in the series when he tallied a shorthanded goal at 1:06 of the second period. The goal came just a dozen seconds after Caps left wing Tomas Fleischmann was seated in the penalty box for a hooking violation.
“That was one of the big goals for us,” says Fehr. “Boyd Gordon going in, he usually doesn’t score goals. He puts a big goal in for us and changes momentum. I thought our team was much better after that, really putting pressure on them.”
Gordon won the defensive zone draw back to blueliner Tom Poti. Poti rapped a hard-around behind the Washington net, and the puck dribbled past a flat-footed Montreal point man. Gordon hustled into neutral ice in pursuit of the disc, with Mike Knuble driving down the opposite wing to give Washington a 2-on-1. Gordon took the puck to the net and basically willed it past Halak, jimmying it with his stick until it oozed its way into the cage.
“The importance was that it came on their power play and it took their crowd out of it a little bit,” says Boudreau. “It gave us life. It was an important goal.”
The goal was Gordon’s first in 23 career Stanley Cup playoff games.
Gordon got gypped in Game 3’s selection of the three stars. He was a force all over the ice tonight. He finished up with a plus-2 rating, five shots on goal and a tremendous 87% (13-for-15) rate in the face-off circle for the night.
Gordon’s single-game career best for shots in a game is six.
Special Struggles – The Caps went 0-for-7 on the power play tonight. They are now 0-for-14 with the man advantage in this series. Including the last two games of the regular season, the Capitals are now 0-for-21 on the power play in their previous five contests. Washington is also 3-for-31 (9.7%) in seven games against the Canadiens this season.
It has been more than two years since the Capitals have suffered through a longer drought without an extra-man goal. Washington went 0-for-18 in a span of six games on the power play from Jan. 29-Feb. 8, 2008.
“We suck right now,” laments Boudreau, when asked about the Caps’ power play. “It’s the worst stretch that we’ve gone through. You know what happens like that once you start getting frustrated and frustrated. I thought we had some really good looks and good chances but none went in and then you get frustrated. But it is what it is. I’m sure we’ll eventually get a goal on it. Maybe not in this series, but eventually, next year or something.”
The Kid’s All Right – Caps defenseman John Carlson skated 20:19 on the night, marking the second time in three postseason games that he eclipsed the 20-minute plateau. Carlson played 22 regular season games with the Caps without reaching that mark.
Carlson was plus-2 on the night, and he has been a plus player in all three Stanley Cup playoff games this spring. With a plus-5 in three games, Carlson and defense partner Poti share the league lead in that department.
Secondary Stuff – The Caps got goals from five different players. Four of Washington’s five goals on the night came from the team’s third and fourth lines. Three of the Capitals’ goals came from players whose goal was their first of the playoffs.
Happy Birthday – To ex-Caps assistant coach and former Norris Trophy winner Randy Carlyle, born on this day in 1956.
By The Numbers – Washington has now scored 10 of the last 12 goals in the series … Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn did not take a shift in the third period. He skated a total of 10:52 on 16 shifts for the night … The Caps outhit the Habs 15-7 in the first period … Washington had 20 shots blocked on the night. More than half of those came off the sticks of Ovechkin (five) and Semin (six). Ovechkin’s goal came on his only shot on goal of the game … Bradley led the Caps with five hits on the night … Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges led all players on both sides with four blocked shots in the game.
Postgame Quotebook -- Boudreau on being up in the series, 2-1: “Tomorrow is a new day. When we lost the first game, the next day was a new day. I’m certain [the Canadiens] are going to be the same. They’ve got one of the smartest – if not the smartest – coaches in the NHL so they’ll make adjustments. They’ll come out with a lot of energy again on Wednesday.”
1 - 0 WSH
2 - 0 WSH
3 - 0 WSH
4 - 0 WSH
4 - 1 WSH
5 - 1 WSH
Interference - Goalkeeper