Canadiens-Capitals: Habs' Third-Period Collapse Evens Series
Montreal 5 Washington 6 OT (Verizon Center)
"We came here for one (victory) and we got our one," said Mike Cammalleri. "Now it's time to go home and play. I liked our team; I think we did a lot of good things."
It's understandable why Cammalleri needed to say what he did and put on a brave face for the media. Unfortunately, some fans will echo the Pollyanna comments.
The NHL playoffs are not a time when a team can "settle for" anything including a series split when a stranglehold was within their grasp. One cannot let the opposition off the mat especially when they are the league's top team and an offensive juggernaut.
Losing game two was not catastrophic for the Canadiens, but the way they lost was. It could be devastating to the psyche of the Habs and a major boost to Washington.
"It feels like we've put the pressure on them and got the momentum back," Nicklas Backstrom said. "Even if we scored with just one minute left, it's so important. We never gave up."
With two minutes left in the second period, the Canadiens had a commanding 4-1 lead.
A 2-0 lead in the series going back to Montreal would have given the Canadiens a serious chance for the upset. Washington would have been subjected to intense media pressure and self doubt. Goaltending would also have been under scrutiny with Jose Theodore being pulled for the fourth time in his last seven playoff games.
Instead, the Capitals scored five goals on 15 shots in the final 22 minutes of the game for the overtime win. The series is now tied 1-1.
The bottom line is that the Capitals made adjustments and the Canadiens didn't.
When speaking about the game plan, Coach Jacques Martin said, "We wanted to get shots on the net and spend more time in their zone."
The first period mirrored game one with the Capitals dominating faceoffs while outshooting and outhitting the Habs, yet trailing them by one goal. By game's end, Washington had taken a total of 75 shots—37 shots on goal, 18 missed shots, and a remarkable 30 shots that were blocked by Habs players.
The corresponding number for Montreal was 42, hardly indicative of Martin's desire to occupy the offensive zone.
Washington took a page out of the Buffalo Sabres scouting report which reads that "Jaroslav Halak is a big ice goaltender and struggles with traffic in front." Mike Knuble was one Capitals player who heard the message and effectively screened Halak on Backstrom's first two goals. But he wasn't the only one.
Halak seemed unnerved as the Capitals screened and knocked him around late in the second period and throughout the third.
Prior to the playoffs, in a conference call with teams, the NHL indicated that referees had been instructed to be more aware of goaltender interference. While it was indeed the case for the first night of the playoffs, the standard has obviously been relaxed.
The officiating tonight was inconsistent and should be an embarrassment to the NHL for this time of year.
Lost in this disappointing defeat was an outstanding game by Andrei Kostitsyn with three goals and one assist. Kostitsyn and linemates Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec combined for nine points.
Team defense by Montreal was good. For the first two periods Halak was able to handle shots from the perimeter while his teammates cleared second chance opportunities. Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik blocked 12 shots combined.
The Habs should be concerned with the play of Halak. Certainly the contact rattled Halak, and should have been called, but at least two of the goals were stoppable. With the Capitals crowding in the crease, Halak's size is an issue.
In addition, for the third time in recent weeks, Halak was unable to win the game with his team scoring three or more goals. Tonight the Canadiens scored four even strength goals, not an easy feat for this team.
Scott Gomez has played well in the first two games of the playoffs but made a rookie mistake tonight that cost his team when he decided to fight Tom Poti. It had been six years since Poti's last fight and it came in the third period with the Canadiens up by two goals.
With both men in the penalty box for five minutes, the trade-off was an advantage for Washington. Gomez wasn't available for a Habs' power-play which was ineffective.
Caoch Martin must bear a significant portion of the responsibility for the loss. He chose not to play match-ups. His reasoning is that NHL players are all big boys and must learn to play through it. But Martin was schooled as Alex Ovechkin took advantage of the Canadiens' fourth line for a goal.
Size and net presence of the Capital's forwards was also a major factor tonight which only shone more light on Martin's decision not to dress Ryan O'Byrne. His size and strength was needed in front of the net. Ovechkin was only too happy to see Marc-Andre Bergeron on the ice.
"My job is to score goals, but if I have a chance to hit somebody I'm going to hit him," said Ovechkin. "It was good for me mentally. It was Bergeron on my first hit, and he's not that strong of a guy, so it was good for me."
Bergeron seemed to play tentatively as a result.
It should also be concerning to coach Martin that the Capitals have weapons that have not yet got on track. They are most notably Mike Green, Alexander Semin, and the Washington power-play.
We knew that the Capitals would be better tonight. We assumed that Washington would drive to the net more aggressively. We suggested that coach Martin would need to make significant changes for game two.
It seems that all of the above wasn't as clear to the coach. Now, the top team in the East has regained their confidence and their swagger.
"We just need to play our game," Ovechkin said. "It doesn't matter how they're going to play, if we play our game and finish checks, shoot the puck, go to the net, we're going to win. If we play the same way we played in the third period, we're going to be successful."
The series resumes in Montreal on Monday for game three.
Rocket's three stars
1. Nicklas Backstrom
2. Andrei Kostitsyn
3. Alexander Ovechkin
Special mention: Jaroslav Spacek, Tomas Plekanec
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.
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