By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2010; D01
MONTREAL -- Brooks Laich scored with 19 seconds remaining in regulation to rally the Washington Capitals from a three-goal deficit and force the game to overtime Wednesday night. But, as it turned out, his third goal of the night only delayed the demise of a historic run.
Tomas Plekanec capitalized on a defensive zone breakdown, in a game full of them for the Capitals, with eight seconds left in the extra session to lift the Montreal Canadiens to a 6-5 win at Bell Centre that ended Washington's winning streak at 14 games.
"This is 14 times worse than just one loss," winger Tomas Fleischmann said. "This one hurts worse that the others. I'm really upset right now. We had opportunities to win it, but we played really sloppy on our defensive zone. You can't win if you play that sloppy."
After falling behind 5-2 late in the second period, the Capitals put fans on the edge of their seats with goals from Mike Green, on the power play, and Laich, on an odd man break, that whittled Washington's deficit to a single goal.
Laich then completed his hat trick when he redirected a pass between Carey Price's pads. But the Capitals faltered in the waning seconds of a wide open, four-on-four overtime period. Plekanec sneaked down low and scored his second goal of the game, tapping in a crossing pass from Sergei Kostitsyn (three assists) on a play Coach Bruce Boudreau said underscored a poor effort by his blueliners.
"There was a breakdown," Boudreau said. "Someone had to take that guy. I think it was a culmination of how our defense played most of the night. They weren't good."
Brian Pothier, one of the two defensemen on the ice, added: "He made a good pass through. It was a nice play. But [Jeff] Schultz and I, if we had a redo, would have done things a little bit different."
Like that, a "once in a lifetime" streak, one that is tied for the third longest in NHL history, was over.
"For a lot of us, it's a once in a lifetime thing," Boudreau said. "You think it's going to happen again. But those things don't come back again. But give our players a lot of credit for intestinal fortitude they had to put this thing together. There's a reason only two teams in the history of the National Hockey League have gone longer."
He added: "In the age of the salary cap, there's no easy games to play. So I would have to say that 17 games for Pittsburgh might have been a tad easier, or the 15 games for the Islanders in the 1980s was [easier] than what we did in 2010."
For most of the night, the Capitals found themselves fighting from behind. They gave up a goal 36 seconds into the contest to Scott Gomez. Then they surrendered four more during a wretched second period that featured a goaltending change, a combined five goals, two video reviews and a pair of Montreal strikes 12 seconds apart.
After not yielding a goal in the opening minute of a period all season, the Capitals did it for the second time in the same game when Tom Pyatt notched his first NHL goal off of a deflected shot at 41 seconds of the second that put the Canadiens ahead 2-1.
Nicklas Backstrom responded 30 seconds later by finishing off a pretty give-and-go with Alex Ovechkin to knot the score. But then things got strange. José Theodore (21 saves) relieved Michal Neuvirth (12 stops) in goal at 6 minutes 11 seconds after Neuvirth suffered an undisclosed injury that Boudreau called "minor."
Theodore, a Montreal native and former Canadiens star, was welcomed back to his old stomping grounds with an ear-splitting chant of "Tey-Oh!" He silenced them briefly by stopping the first seven shots he faced. But then Glen Metropolit directed a cross crease pass into the net with his skate at 12:45. After a review, the goal was allowed to stand.
"I guess they decided there was no kicking motion," Boudreau said.
Only 12 seconds later, Maxim Lapierre rifled a shot past Theodore to make it 4-2. The second review came moments later, after Ovechkin launched himself at the Montreal net, driving Price, defenseman Hal Gill and the puck into the net. The goal, however, was disallowed, incensing Boudreau.
"I wouldn't have been upset if they had [initially] called it no goal," Boudreau said. "But they called it a goal. So I didn't think they had enough [evidence] to over turn it. But the ref told me Price didn't have a chance to play the puck."
Then, with 1:04 remaining in what was likely the oddest period of the season, Plekanec snapped a shot past Theodore after Schultz mishandled the puck along the wall.
"The last few games we had been putting ourselves in tough spots," Pothier said. "We played against some really good teams and found a way to come back and win. Unfortunately we dug ourselves a hole we couldn't get out of tonight."
For weeks, teams had been lining up, hoping to put an end to a streak that had become the talk of the league. And considering the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins had tried and failed twice, it seemed unlikely that a banged-up Montreal team would be the one to do it.
The Canadiens entered the game minus five regulars, including leading goal scorer Mike Cammalleri (knee). By the end of the first period, they were without another key player. Josh Gorges went down to block a Green one-timer in the final seconds and was struck in the jaw. The impact of the puck left the defenseman bleeding profusely as he lay face down on the ice. He did not return, but is expected to be okay.
The gruesome injury marred an opening 20 minutes that saw the Capitals surrender the game's first goal for the ninth time during the streak, and for fifth consecutive contest.
"It's fun to win, you want to win every single game you play," Pothier said. "I wouldn't say it's a relief. That pressure is a good pressure. We have an opportunity to start a new one tomorrow."
Capitals notes: Jason Chimera, who left Wednesday's practice early with a suspected groin muscle pull, was scratched. . . . Defenseman Tom Poti missed several shifts in the third period, but his status was unclear after the game. . . . With a first-period hooking infraction, Alexander Semin has taken 12 minor penalties in the past 11 games.