Canadiens missed their chance; the Capitals did not

After two overtime games, Washington pounds the Habs, 5-1, to go up 2-1 in the first-round series.
Red Fisher
Montreal Gazette columnist
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

MONTREAL -- So what did you expect? Another mini-miracle -- such as the Canadiens rallying from a four-goal deficit in the third period after playing their best first period of the series?

Not on this night, folks. Not when the Capitals delivered one of their big periods after their worst. Not when Semyon Varlamov provided near-flawless goaltending in this 5-1 victory over the Canadiens.

How good were the Canadiens in the first period while outshooting the Capitals, 10-7? The only area in which the Capitals held the edge in numbers was in the matter of delivering hits: 15-7. Do not, however, include the biggest hitter on the Washington roster. For that matter, while the 8 minutes 4 seconds Alex Ovechkin delivered in the first period, he was nowhere to be found.

In a perfect world, the Canadiens would have left with a couple of goals, but while you're out-chancing the opposition by a generous margin, you've also got to beat the oppositing goaltender -- and face it: Varlamov was simply too good for any of the Canadiens shooters.

There has to be something wrong with a Presidents' Cup team when it has only one shot on its first power play and none on its second, which was the case when Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec were serving high-sticking and tripping penalties early and late in a period the Canadiens dominated -- mostly because Washington's biggest and best shooters missed the team bus.

However, the good thing about great teams is that even on those nights when the Ovechkins aren't noticed, it's all about 'team'. Even though Ovechkin provided his colleagues with a 4-0 lead, it was all about Capitals players who play in Ovechkin's long shadow getting the job done.

People like Boyd Gordon, who stunned the Bell audience with a short-handed goal only 12 seconds into a hooking minor to Tomas Fleischmann.

Or Matt Bradley, who finished off the scoring with 44 seconds remaining.

What I'm saying is that it makes a lot of sense to put your best people . . . two, if necessary . . . to keep an Ovechkin under something of a leash. It works on some nights (see Game 1) and doesn't on others. However, it's also a good idea to keep an eye on some of the lesser-known Capitals. There are a lot of reasons why the Capitals finished No. 1 overall, and one of them is the team's depth.

On a night when Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom weren't grabbing the attention they did with their comeback from a 4-1 deficit, others stepped up -- mostly because the Canadiens allowed them to do as they pleased while going about the business of scoring four times before the second period had reached the 14-minute mark.

Unlike Game 2, when the Canadiens allowed one to get away, this one was taken away in the second period -- mostly because Washington got the goaltending it needed from Varlamov and the Canadiens didn't get the defense and the goaltending.

Stuff happens. Carey Price did all right with 21 stops in the 23 shots he faced after Jaroslav Halak got the hook following Washington's third goal on only 13 shots. Vintage Halak it wasn't. He didn't get a lot of help from his defense, but there have been many nights when Halak got the job done on his own, despite shabby work by the defense.

Not last night, for some reason. Not in Game 2 either, when the Capitals rallied to win 6-5 in overtime.

Know something? The Canadiens had to be an unhappy bunch after losing Game 2. Last night had to hurt a lot more. They weren't simply beaten in the second period: they were embarrassed.

Can somebody tell me where Michael Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn were last night? When, for example, was the last time this Big Three left a game with a minus-4 . . . apiece! Plekanec scored the Canadiens' only goal when Varlamov provided him with a fat rebound on his original shot. That, however, was Varlamov's only mistake of the night.

Nobody's perfect, I guess.

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