Top-seeded Washington Capitals fall, 3-2 in overtime, to Canadiens in Game 1 of first-round Stanley Cup playoff series

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010; D01

Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals hoped to show everyone that they're more than a regular season wonder.

Instead, Jaroslav Halak, Tomas Plekanec and the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens made the big statement -- while Ovechkin failed to muster a shot on goal -- in the teams' opening game of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Halak made 45 saves and Plekanec scored from between the circles at 13 minutes 19 seconds of overtime to send the NHL's top seed to a 3-2 loss at Verizon Center.

While a lot went wrong for Washington, Ovechkin's subpar performance stood out the most. It was only the second time this season the NHL's shots leader failed to register at least one.

"He didn't play good," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I can't put my finger on it right now, but when you get [nearly] 50 shots on goal and Ovechkin doesn't get any, and you have four power plays, there's something. . . . They took him away. But I didn't think he was very good."

Ovechkin, who entered with 15 goals and 30 points in 21 career playoff games and a reputation for torching teams from Canada, said he must make adjustments to escape Montreal's suffocating coverage.

"They just don't give us the room," the two-time MVP said. "They just put two guys in front of me, two guys in front of [Nicklas Backstrom]. I don't know. We just have to talk each other and what we have to do better."

The other prominent story line after Game 1 was, of course, the fact that Plekanec scored the winner on Theodore two days after the former teammates traded barbs through the media. The Canadiens star slighted Theodore, saying, "It's not as though we were up against [Martin] Brodeur or [Ryan] Miller." Theodore responded with, "Tomas who? Jagr? Oh, Plekanec. Okay. I thought you meant Jagr."

Well, for one moment Thursday, Plekanec did his best Jaromir Jagr impression. A broken play led to Plekanec getting the puck at the top of the Capitals' zone, where he took aim, waited for Washington defenseman Joe Corvo to screen Theodore before he unleashed a perfectly placed shot to steal home-ice advantage from the Capitals, who dropped the opening game of the playoffs on home ice for the second straight spring.

"He did a good shot shooting against the grain," Theodore said. "I was moving one way, and he went the other. He's a skilled player, and he was able to make that shot."

Plekanec's overtime winner spoiled what was an otherwise solid showing by Theodore, who stopped 35 shots.

"I thought he was good," Boudreau said of Theodore. "In the second period, when they were putting a push on the last 10 minutes of the period, he made some big, big saves to keep us in it."

After Plekanec beat Theodore, the raucous capacity crowd fell silent for the first time all night. Solemnly, the 18,277 headed for the exits on a night that began with a Stanley Cup shown on the high-definition screens above center ice along with the words "Nothing else matters" and Metallica blaring in the background.

But if they're going to parading down Pennsylvania Avenue with a Cup in June, they're going to need their best players to be just that -- starting Saturday night.

Backstrom scored a goal, but was in the penalty box for the Canadiens' first goal. Mike Green registered two shots and no points in 28:31. Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann also finished without a point.

"Our best players weren't our best players tonight and their best players were," Boudreau said. "Our role players were really good."

Despite the star players' struggles, it would have been tough to predict overtime after the game's first 20 minutes.

The Capitals controlled the first period, out-shooting the Canadiens, 19-7, and tying a franchise playoff record for shots in a period. The visitors, however, escaped tied 1-1 because Washington couldn't stay out of the penalty box and Halak was outstanding -- two of Boudreau's primary concerns entering the series.

About 12 minutes into the period, Backstrom was sent off for cross-checking deep in the Canadiens' zone, and Mike Cammalleri rifled a shot from the circle past Theodore's blocker to put Montreal ahead, 1-0. Cammalleri's goal was his first in 13 games and first since Jan. 13 because he missed 18 games with a sprained knee.

"Maybe it was a bad penalty," Backstrom snapped.

Boudreau added: "Nicky retaliated. But you can count on one hand how many times Nicky has retaliated this year."

Halak made a brilliant pad stop on Semin late in the opening period, but the Canadiens goalie couldn't stop what he couldn't see moments later. Corvo fired a shot through a screen at 15:33 to send the game into the second period tied at 1.

After a tense, scoreless middle frame in which Montreal threatened to snatch the lead from the Capitals, Backstrom eased the sellout crowd's concerns 47 seconds into the third period when he snapped a shot past Halak to put Washington ahead, 2-1.

The lead didn't last long, though. Scott Gomez, one of the swiftest skaters in the league, blasted through the Capitals in the neutral zone about seven minutes later, then tapped in Brian Gionta's pass to knot the score at 2.

Halak stopped 31 of the final 32 shots he faced, including six in overtime.

"We had a lot of shots, but I don't think we had a lot of quality chances after the first period," Boudreau said. "Halak played good, but I don't think he did anything we didn't think he was capable of doing."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company