Make no mistake, Montreal is one of the toughest barns in the NHL for visiting teams. Steeped in the history of winning 24 Stanley Cups and playing under the banners of such legendary names as Guy Lafleur, Maurice (Rocket) Richard, Jacques Plante, Jean Beliveau, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, the Bell Centre is always sold out with hockey crazy Habs fans that have been following the team through generations. And as the Canadiens returned home for the first time in this series, about 22,000 of their closest friends were on hand to cheer then on. I’m pretty sure they were all kinds of ready to welcome their former golden boy, Jose Theodore, in a not so friendly manner. But Bruce Boudreau had to make the painstaking decision of who to start in net and it was Semyon Varlamov that would face the deafening Habs’ faithful.
Varly showed that he was up for the task in the first period, stopping all ten shots he faced, including several cat-quick saves against Mike Cammalleri and Scott Gomez on Montreal’s power play. The boys played much of the first period with much more urgency but the power play continued to struggle. Both teams played with great intensity, bolstered by the cheers (and jeers) of the home crowd. Despite some end to end action, the opening period ended with no score.
The second period turned out to golden for this Caps club, who found themselves clawing their way from behind on Saturday night. Varlamov was spectacular from the first face off, particularly magnificent with a stop on Scott Gomez who was racing towards the net on a two-on-one with his pal Brian Gionta. But it was Boyd Gordon who got the party started at 1:06 in the middle stanza with a short-handed goal and his first playoff tally. After that, it was all Caps! The boys continued their barrage when Brooks Laich snapped a wrister past Jaro Halak less than four minutes later. Then it was Eric Fehr’s turn adding a third Capitals goal about five minutes behind Laich and Halak was off for an early shower. The unpredictable Carey Price got an early initiation in his first appearance in this series as none other than Alex Ovechkin (who was left wide open) sizzled a wrist shot into the net and fell to his knees in celebration. I tell ya, there is nothing like that gap-toothed smile in the seconds following a Capitals goal that can bring a hockey fan out of even the darkest mood! After the fourth Capitals goal, the Canadiens’ frustration reached the boiling point and they began to totally lose it like Hockey Mom on laundry day. Jason Chimera was a primary target of the feisty Habs most of the evening as they tried to goad him into dropping the mittens and he found himself in the middle of a Gionta/Gomez cross check sandwich. Gionta was cited with a cross check and Gomez garnered himself a game misconduct. Then off went both naughty Habs to the box. About three minutes later they’d be joined by Tomas Jagr Plekanec, who was whistled for interference and then his backtalk earned him an unsportsmanlike conduct. The period ended just in time for the history laden Habs to regain their composure and attempt to regroup. End of second period: Capitals 4 - Canadiens 0
The Canadiens finally managed to get on the board on a power play goal by the talkative Plekanec in the opening minutes of the final period. His surly mate Maxim Lapierre was itching for a fight all night long and he was escorted to the sin bin as the final minutes ticked off the clock, charged with a roughing call. The boys didn’t score on the resulting power play but the trusty Matt Bradley put the icing on the cake with his first playoff goal with less than a minute left! Final score in an eerily silent Bell Centre: Capitals 5 – Canadiens 1
A great overall effort by all the guys – we finally got the secondary scoring we’ve been looking for and Varly was tremendous, despite being in the Montreal pressure cooker! Let’s do it again on Wednesday boys…