Washington Capitals find the net and silence the Canadiens, and their fans
There is a cacophony that 21,000 or so hepped-up Quebecois can make in a tight, steep arena in April when they are in pursuit of la Coupe Stanley that can make you want to pull off your ears and use them as coasters.
And when that noise stops -- when, say, the Washington Capitals pour in four second-period goals on their way to a 5-1 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre -- its absence is auditory.
So this is what Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were talking about.
Hello, darkness, my old friend. The Caps looked in Game 3 much more like a team that scored the most points in the NHL this season and much less like The Gang That Couldn't Pass or Shoot Straight that we saw for two periods of Game 1 and much of Game 2.
It's not wrong to expect the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and the team that has clinched home ice for the entire postseason to outplay the No. 8 seed. Not to sweep, but to look like the better team. Instead, the Capitals looked out of sync in losing Game 1, lucky in winning Game 2 and vulnerable entering Game 3.
The Habs came out playing fast and hard in the first period, forcing Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov -- Coach Bruce Boudreau's choice over José Theodore -- to contort like Shaun White playing Twister. Their 10 first-period shots on goal must have felt like 100 to Varly.
The Caps, however, stepped up as well. Their passing was crisper and they were able to break out of the death trap between the blue lines and put some pressure on Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak. The period ended in a scoreless tie; given the Habs' propensity for early goals, that must have felt like a victory to the Caps at intermission.
"Our goal was to be even after the first period," Boudreau said. "We knew the crowd would be loud and crazy. Crazy good! I don't want to be misquoted."
Varlamov was Boudreau's choice after two quick goals ended Theodore's night early Saturday in Game 2. Monday night, it was Halak's turn. After giving up three goals in a little more than eight minutes in the second period, the crowd began to chant "CA-REY, CA-REY" and Coach Jacques Martin obligingly threw Mr. Price into the fray. Ovechkin beat him a few minutes later, giving the Caps a 4-0 lead and pretty effectively stifling the "O-VIE SUCKS" chants.
The second-period barrage was not due to the artistry of Nicklas Backstrom or Ovechkin. It was Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr -- players whose names are seldom incorporated into derisive chants -- who broke the Habs' backs and silenced their backers.
"We were able to quiet them down in the second period, which helped us for sure," Fehr said. "It feels good to come into a hostile environment like this and play the game we did. We played pretty simple, nothing fancy and we got the win."