After losing their first game to the Montreal Canadiens, Bruce Boudreau made a few adjustments to his lines and Ovechkin took full accountability for his missing man performance on Thursday. From the sound of coach and player's comments after practice, everyone had their game face on and was ready to even the series. The French Canadian media had descended on the Phone Booth in droves – many of us watched the action from an overflow press area in the arena. HM noticed that many of the male members of the Montreal media pack were quite fond of the hair gel – they definitely had some well-coiffed reporters in the press box. Pierre McGuire was also in the house - well coiffed? Well not so much...
Well things didn't exactly get off to a great start as pocket-sized Brian Gionta lit the lamp first for the visitors early into the first period. At the 7:58 mark, Andrei Kostitsyn of the nasty Kostitsyn brothers, evaded the efforts of Mike Green and Jeff Schultz and added the Canadiens' second marker. Gabby must have had visions of last year's Rangers series as he made the decision to pull Theo from the crease and replace him with Semyon Varlamov. Eric Fehr took full advantage of a breakaway opportunity and with help from his pal Flash, scored to get the Caps within one. Ovechkin’s presence was definitely felt in the form of several tooth-rattling hits and both teams managed to stay out of the box in the opening period. Shots on goal favored the guys in red (13-8) but neither team tallied for the remainder of the first. End of the first period: Canadiens 2 – Capitals 1
The boys opened the period by having to defend the dangerous Montreal power play for the first time in the game as Eric Berlanger took a seat for hooking. Thankfully they were able to deny the Habs this one but they weren’t so lucky a mere few minutes later. Andrei Kostistyn must have had something extra in his Powerade as he scored his second goal of the night at the 11:06 mark. Brooks Laich shuffled off to the sin bin for a tripping infraction at 17:54 and the Habs Andrei Kostitsyn tallied for the hat trick. The deafening noise in the Phone Booth dropped to a hush at that point as Montreal’s lead was padded by three. Nicklas Backstrom scored a lovely wide angle goal from the left side to get the Caps within two. Hockey Mom was bit confused after the Habs fourth goal as it went to review and after much deliberation, the refs declared that they had spent all that time reviewing an “earlier goal.” Huh, what were you guys watching another series, or maybe last year’s playoffs? Nonetheless, the middle stanza ended with the Habs up by a two goal lead and things were not looking too great for the home team favorites. End of second period: Canadiens 4 – Capitals 2
Ovi broke his short playoff goal slump in the third period as he poked a loose puck between the pads of Jaroslav Halak and in an instant; we had a whole new game. Seconds later, a mad skirmish took place in front of Varly’s crease. Brian Gionta thought he’d added to Montreal’s bottom line as the puck slid in at the same moment one of his line mates crashed into the Caps’ net minder and dislodged the net. The stripes said no goal and a melee ensued as Tom Poti and Scott Gomez proceeded to mix it up after exchanging pleasantries. Poti got a few choice jabs on Gomez as #91’s jersey got stuck over his face and blocked his view (hate it when that happens). Those two took a seat for fighting and a hot Nick Backstrom evened the score by picking up a lovely pass from Ovechkin and roofing it over Halak. With less than five minutes left in the game, Mike Green neglected to intercept a pass from Mike Cammalleri, who sizzled the puck to a waiting Tomas Plekanec for the fifth Montreal goal. But the Caps had yet another chance in the waning minutes as Benoit Pouliot was whistled for tripping and the Caps had a late power play. The boys didn’t score on the man advantage but “Captain Clutch Carlson” took a nice little feed from Nick Backstrom with 1:21 left in the third to once again tie this nail biter! HM cannot say enough about this kid other than if he’s this good now, just think about what a beast he’s going to be in another year or two.
The Caps blasted a flurry of shots towards Halak as the clock ticked down and Caps fans were gripping their seats as this game was headed into another sudden death OT (be still my beating heart)! And just in case your life as a true blue hockey fan wasn’t exciting enough, Nick Backstrom added a little more spice just 30-something seconds into the OT with the game-winning goal and the hat trick! HM has heard more than one hockey pundit predict that Backstrom could emerge as the MVP of this series for last night at least, they were right! Final adrenaline surge score: Capitals 6 – Canadiens 5
Now this game took my blood pressure to new levels, but once again the cardiac Caps came through in the clutch. Let’s see last night’s third period effort for a full 60 minutes tomorrow night boys and we’ll be in business (and Mike Green, clear the puck please – thanks).
In the post-game press conference, Gabby had glowing words for Backstrom, saying: "Nicky is a great player and great players come to fore when you need them." He also acknowledged the less than stellar performances of Mike Green and Jeff Schultz. As Boudreau was winding down his comments on the podium, the night’s two stars who combined for eight points (Ovi and Backstrom of course) could be heard playing a pickup game of basketball on the Wizards practice court. Gabby, who’s always great for a funny sound bite, quipped “Are the Wizards still playing?” Nope, the Wizards are done but not the Washington Capitals, who will head into a packed hostile barn in Montreal tomorrow night aiming to take the series lead. We’ll have to wait and see who’ll be minding the net for the road team. Stay tuned…