The first two games in Washington featured a comedy of bad bounces, stumbling skaters, and what seemed to be not really playoff-quality play or ice. Montreal managed to get all the bounces sneaking away with an overtime victory in game one. Despite a complete collapse in the third period of game two they still had a chance to win as that game went to overtime as well.
Once on Montreal ice, the Capitals skated past the hapless Habs to an almost uncontested 5-1 win. Game four saw Les Habitants dominate the Capitals for two periods. Once Washington got their skating legs under them though, four third period goals settled the game decisively.
The Washington team playing in Montreal looked luckier and considerably better than the team forced into two overtimes at home. They returned home with great hopes of finishing the series early.
It was not to be. The Capitals carried the play for the first period and yet were down 2-0. They never managed to achieve the offensive flow that is a key to their game. Washington has great team speed at forward which should allow them to dominate Montreal's old slow, mistake-prone defense. There have been flashes of this but aside from the third period in game two, never at home.
The Verizon center ice looked slushy and slow to a TV audience for the first two games. Bouncing pucks and stumbling skaters decorated those first two games. Saturday night's ice looked better to the casual observer, but still it was a slow, sluggish game. Neither team managed to generate much in the way of exciting offense.
In Montreal, on the other hand, famed for good hard consistent ice, the Capitals have provided their best offensive displays of the playoffs so far. It's hard to imagine that a facility as modern as the Verizon Center can't produce a hard, consistent ice surface for playoff hockey.
The facility is just over a dozen years old and it's almost impossible to believe Leonsis and company went penny wise on the ice plant. A team that's built around offensive skill and speed needs better ice than a trap team. They'll flourish on good ice. Bad ice favours a less talented team intent on slowing games down.
Any NHL team needs a consistent surface to help protect their million dollar players from injury. An NHL that has 12 teams south of Washington needs to show that a money making, highly talented, successful operation can provide a good surface for their players to play on. If they can't what hope is there for the Florida's of this league?
If Washington manages to skate circles around Montreal tonight I have to wonder if it's the team finally getting over first round jitters and hitting their stride, or is it the ice?