By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 18, 2010; D01
By the late stages of the second period Saturday night, jeers had started to rain down from the red-clad capacity crowd at Verizon Center. After 31 seconds had expired in overtime, the only things coming from the stands were hats.
Nicklas Backstrom scored three goals, including the winner 1 minutes 52 seconds after rookie John Carlson forced the game to extra time, and the Washington Capitals escaped with a 6-5 victory over the Canadiens that sends the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series back to Montreal tied at one game.
Backstrom's performance, coupled with a goal and three assists from Alex Ovechkin helped the Capitals overcome a hat trick from Andrei Kostitsyn and José Theodore yielding two goals on the first two shots he faced to open the game.
"Nicky is a great player and great players come to fore when you need them," Coach Bruce Boudreau said.
After praising Backstrom, Boudreau was asked about his team's defensive performance and whether he "liked 'em that wild" as in needing to score five of the game's final six goals.
"No," he said with a shrug. "But, I mean, that's the only way we were going to win tonight was if we decided to go all offense. By no stretch did we deserve to win. We got lucky and we did. We know we're not out of the woods."
The tough questions, though, might have just begun for Boudreau, who will have to decide what to do about a starting goaltender for Monday's Game 3 at Bell Centre.
Does he go back to Theodore, and give the veteran the start in his home town, against his former team, in front of fans who have not been kind to him in the past? Or does he turn to Semyon Varlamov, who yielded three goals on 22 shots?
"I don't know, in the real world, if Theo had much chance on either one of them," Boudreau said. "But I do know that we had expended an awful lot of energy in the first eight minutes of the game and we were down 2-0. So I thought that might [result in] a lift from the crowd and a lift on the bench."
Theodore said: "In the playoffs you have to make those saves. Then I was ready to get [more] shots and they didn't come. Then that second shot was a pretty good shot. . . . Bruce decided to change me and it was obviously a good choice because we won the game."
But the story Saturday wasn't goaltending woes, it was the Capitals' stars finally showing up -- even if fashionably late.
Following Thursday's 3-2 overtime defeat in Game 1, Boudreau challenged Ovechkin and his supporting cast of stars, saying, "Our best players weren't our best players tonight."
On Saturday, Ovechkin looked like the two-time MVP, and slowly, his teammates followed on a night that couldn't have gotten off to a more nightmarish start for the Capitals, who found themselves behind 4-1 before the game was 38 minutes old.
"I felt pretty good today, especially in the first period," Ovechkin said. "I got into the game, got some hits, made some shots."
Ovechkin amassed seven of his eight hits in the first period, bowling over Canadiens defensemen Marc-Andre Bergeron and Andrei Markov on his first shift, setting the stage for his late heroics in a wild final 22 minutes of regulation that couldn't have been any more nerve racking for either bench -- of the anxious 18,377 fans on the edge of their seats.
Backstrom pulled the Capitals to within striking distance, 4-2, at 18 minutes 23 seconds of the second period when he beat Jaroslav Halak from a tight angle.
Then the fireworks began in earnest.
Just 2:56 into the third period, Ovechkin tallied his first goal of these playoffs to cut the Capitals's deficit to 4-3 after his second whack at Halak's pads pushed the puck over the goal line.
"It's such a big key for our team," Backstrom said of Ovechkin, who was held without a shot and a point for the first time in his career on Thursday. "I mean, he plays with a lot of emotion and plays physical and everything. He gives other teammates a lot of energy. When you see him go to the net and score goals like that, I mean, it gives other guys good energy, and other guys want to do it, too, so it's a good sign for us."
About seven minutes later, Ovechkin sent a deft crossing pass to Backstrom, who banged the puck past Halak to knot the score at 4.
But the Habs weren't done. Tomas Plekanec, the Game 1 hero, almost put the Capitals into an embarrassing predicament when he finished off a give-and-go with Michael Cammalleri with 5:06 remaining in regulation.
That, however, was Carlson's cue to score the biggest goal of the Capitals' season, just four months after scoring in overtime to lead Team USA to a gold medal in the world junior championship.
"There's just something about him," Boudreau said of Carlson. "Glory follows him. Some guys get that."
Actually, make that the second biggest goal of the Capitals' season.
"We have this side of our team, we just never gave up and the second period was kind of embarrassing for us a little bit," Backstrom said. "But we bounced back and that's a good thing for us. That's so important for us right now. We need those kinds of wins."
Capitals notes: Forwards Boyd Gordon, Quintin Laing and Scott Walker and defensemen John Erkine and Tyler Sloan were healthy scratches. Gordon was replaced by Brendan Morrison, who made his playoff debut as the second-line center.