It wasn't exactly a vanquishing because such seminal moments rarely unfold during the regular season, but Washington's 3-0 victory over Montreal last night was about as satisfying and complete as any so far, especially for a club bent on prospering during the playoffs after flaming out in the first round against these Canadiens.
The Capitals left no doubt from the opening faceoff that this game was meaningful on so many levels. They took the fight to Montreal on offense throughout the first period, and that onslaught yielded a pair of goals that left the Canadiens reeling. The first came stylishly from right wing Jay Beagle's backhand with 3 minutes 40 seconds to play, and defenseman Mike Green followed with an acrobatic goal 37 seconds before the first intermission.
Then Washington made it stand by deploying defensive pressure on all flanks consistently, including the forecheck, shot blocking and along the last line of resistance behind 25 saves from goalie Semyon Varlamov.
"Yeah, it was great for us," said winger Eric Fehr, who had an assist on Beagle's goal. "We needed that one just to know we can beat these guys again. Just put a good solid effort forward. I thought everybody on our team played well."
It's no coincidence Washington played with special purpose, considering the opponent created many sleepless nights for Capitals players, coaches and fans alike by dispatching the Presidents' Trophy winners in seven games.
The Capitals had built a series lead of three games to one, but goalie Jaroslav Halak, now with St. Louis, was virtually impenetrable in the final three games, including stopping 41 of 42 shots in a 2-1 win in Game 7 at Verizon Center after turning away 53 of 54 in Game 6.
Before Tuesday night's game, the players talked about leaving doubt in the mind of the Canadiens should the teams meet again in the playoffs.
"Before the game, we obviously had these guys marked on our calendar for awhile," said Green, whose goal off a skilled pass from Nicklas Backstrom came while he was falling to the ice. "They're such a good team. They're so quick, and they pass the puck so well, it makes it difficult. We played a solid game. We played our system to a T, and when do that, we're usually successful no matter who we play."
But while players were rejoicing in the redemptive victory, Coach Bruce Boudreau predictably took a more measured and practical approach to this latest development. After all, it's nowhere close to playoff time, and his aim is about the long haul, not necessarily immediate rewards.
"No, we wanted to beat Montreal because they play Tampa next," Boudreau said when asked if toppling the Canadiens held extra meaning. "We figured that if we can beat them, then all of a sudden they go down there, they're going to get a little more desperate and hopefully come up with a good couple games in Florida. But no, because if we're sitting here in April, and we're playing whatever team, and we don't have success, then this is going to mean nothing, and you guys are going to be all over us again."
FROM THE POST
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