The Washington Capitals secured their spot in the long-awaited Stanley Cup Playoffs back on March 11 and since then their faithful followers have been counting the days until Game One. Despite the fact that all of the higher seeded teams dropped their first games in last night's action, Caps fans were just raring to get this party started and were bolstered by the fact that the boys were opening at 20-11 all-time in Game 1 of a series and 13-5 at home.
The Caps came out wheels on fire and were the recipients of the game's first power play when Habs' defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron couldn't keep up with the speedy Jason Chimera. In his frustration, Bergeron attempted to slow the swift Chimera down via a hook. The Canadiens were a chippy bunch from the get go and their penalty killing unit kept the home team off the board while on the man advantage. But it was the Canadien's dangerous power play that helped them light the lamp first, on a goal from Mike Cammalleri who had 26 goals during the regular season. Habs netminder Jaroslav Halak was at top form in holding back the floodgates, as the Capitals outshot the visitors 19-7 in the first period. Both teams took a few too many penalties in the opening period and we saw an all too familiar stick infraction from Alex Semin and an uncharacteristic cross check from Nick Backstrom (after he was knocked down and mauled in the corner for crying out loud). But the boys in red lit the lamp about two minutes after the Habs' tally on a full strength goal from Joe Corvo. End of the first period: Capitals 1 - Canadiens 1
The tempo seemed to slow down for both teams in the second period and Alex Ovechkin was held without a shot on goal through the entire contest (huh?), thanks to having Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek and the Sequoia tree known as Hal Gill stuck to him like glue. With about nine minutes left in the middle stanza, Jose Theodore made a statement to naysayer Tomas Plekanac and his linemates by denying a series of shots with some extraordinary acrobatics. He had to stand at attention in the minutes that followed as the Caps were unsuccessful in clearing the puck out of their zone (HM is quite sure that Gabby had plenty to say about that during the intermission). Les Canadiens took five more shots than the Caps in the second period but neither team scored by the period's final whistle. End of the second period: Capitals 1 - Canadiens 1
The Caps owned the third period this season and they started off the final period in their first playoff game in style with a goal from Nicklas Backstrom. Monsieur Mike Knuble made a lovely no-look pass to his linemate, who whizzed the puck past Halak for the tally. Scott Gomez, who has been been scrutinized by Montreal fans and media alike for his less than stellar numbers, evened things up for the Habs at the 7:34 mark. Rookie John Carlson, who has had quite a year so far, had an exceptional scoring attempt as the final minutes ticked off the clock, but Halak stood tall. In the game's remaining few seconds, Mike Green was cited with a delay of game and the blue-blanc-rouge would go on another power play. End of third period: Capitals 2 - Canadiens 2
As the score was still tied at the end of regulation, the first game would go into a nail-biting sudden death overtime (with the Canadiens on a man-advantage). Unlike the brief overtime periods seen during the regular season, playoff OTs last twenty minutes with no shoot out. HM operates on lots of coffee and little sleep during the playoffs as I tend to stay up watching games (pretty much any game - it's like Christmas for hockey fans) well after my normal bedtime. The boys were spot on killing off the remaining seconds of Mike Green's penalty, getting lots of help from the red-hot Theo with some magnificent saves. Well I'll be darned (and believe me, I'd like to drop an expletive here) that late into the OT period, Tomas Plekanac of the pre-game trash talking, would be the one to score the GWG for the Canadiens. Final: Canadiens 3 - Capitals 2
Not exactly the start the boys were looking for to be sure, but as Matt Bradley pointed out "It's just one game." Boudreau called out his star Ovechkin (when's the last time you saw that), who will hopefully get his mojo back and exact his payback in Game 2 on Saturday night. Both goalies were incredible but you have to give credit to Halak, stopping an eye-popping 45 shots. Not to worry folks, HM is confident that it will be a different story tomorrow night. Disappointing, yes, but this journey is far from over.
On a closing note, if you need a little extra cheering up this morning, check this hilarious fan letter that was sent to my pals at On Frozen Blog. This is sure to make you laugh out loud!