Monday, April 19, 2010

Capitals/Canadiens Game Three: It was a game, for 20 minutes


The Washington Capitals took a 2-1 series lead with a 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night – Washington Post photo

Playoff hockey in Montreal is a sight to behold. The fans walking the streets have more life in their step and the Bell Centre crowd is always loud an excited. Unfortunately when the Montreal Canadiens don’t echo that feeling, or only show it for the first 20 minutes, home ice advantage quickly becomes non-existent.

Such was was the case in Monday’s Game Three playoff matchup against the Washington Capitals. The top seed in the Eastern Conference had four unanswered goals in the second period en route to a 5-1 win and a 2-1 series lead.

The pre-game opening featured a young lad, in a Canadiens “rocket” Richard jersey, carrying out the fabled torch to ignite a eye-popping lighting display.

With Habs legend Jean Beliveau appearing at the Bell Centre for the first time since his January stroke, all the positive energy appeared to be in place.

The Canadiens came out the gate, much like the Capitals had in the first two games, mounting the offensive pressure and limiting their opponents scoring chances.

Despite being out hit 15-7, the home team was ahead in shots in the first period for the first time in the series (10-7). Capitals Captain Alexander Ovechkin was held without a shot in the opening 20 minutes.

The Canadiens shut down two Capitals power plays, and even had more scoring opportunities than their opponents in the first one.

Since their power play units couldn’t connect, the Capitals gave it a shot with the PK unit in the second period. It worked when Tom Poti’s clearing shot eluded the Montreal power play, allowing Boyd Gordon to move in and cash his own rebound, between the legs of Jaroslav Halak, at 1:06.

Gordon, a healthy scratch in Game Two and not known for his scoring, emphasized the depth of the Capitals offence. “We’ve got a lot of quality guys on this team that can step in and play,” he said. “We have to take advantage of our opportunities when we get them.”

If the Capitals shorthanded goal didn’t silence the Bell Centre crowd, Brooks Laich’s screened point shot at 4:42 certainly did.

Three and a half minutes later, Washington increased their lead to three when Eric Fehr swept in to find a rebound right in front of Halak.

“It feels good coming into a hostile environment like this and play the game we play,” Fehr said. “It’s a tough building to play in for both teams. We were able to quiet the crowd down in the second period.”

Allowing three goals on the last six shots faced, and 8 in his last 28, Canadiens coach Jacques Martin pulled his starting goaltender in favour of Carey Price.

“You’re trying to change the momentum at that point,” Martin said. “We had a tremendous first period and lost our momentum and they capitalized.”

Things didn’t get any better as Ovechkin dumped the puck into the corner. Nicklas Backstrom got to the puck back out to his captain. Left wide open , and with a perfect shooting lane, Ovechkin made good on his only shot of the game to make it 4-0.

“It’s an unbelievable crowd. It’s a good atmosphere and our team loves to play here,” Ovechkin said on playing in front of Montreal fans that booed him every time he touched the puck. “I don’t hear it. I just concentrate on where the puck is and where my guys are and play hockey.”

Down by four goals, it fell apart at a disciplinary level for the Canadiens. Two minutes after the Ovechkin goal, Brian Gionta took a cross-checking penalty. Linemate Scott Gomez argued the call and wound up with a 10 minute misconduct.

“I probably said something I shouldn’t have said,” Gomez said. “I’m not going to comment on the refs because they’ve got a job to do. I just wont say that again. I gotta choose my words different.”

Almost three minutes after that Tomas Plekanec argued an interference call and was assessed a two-minute misconduct to close a humiliating twenty minutes.

After killing the Capitals power play, the Canadiens found themselves with the man advantage, where Plekanec managed to solve Simeon Varlamov at 2:25 of the third period.

Price did everything he had to do to keep his team in it, making 21 saves on the night, many spectacular.

“You gotta gather your chickens when your sitting on the bench,” Price said on getting called off the bench. “I didn’t think we gave up that many chances. A lot of the shots were from the outside.”

Unfortunately for Price, his team was unable to meet the task on the offensive end. Canadiens couldn’t capitalize on a later power play, then had one taken away when Andrei Kostitsyn was called on a questionable hooking call.

Maxim Lapierre’s ridiculous roughing call at 16:44 put the exclamation point of a lack luster 40 minutes of play from the Canadiens.

On the flip side, the Capitals played a disciplined game and refused to engage the attempted Montreal roughhousing attempts.

“They talked about it themselves on the bench saying ‘Don’t get involved, we don’t need it’,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said, praising his clubs self-control. “Even though we didn’t score (on Plekanec’s double minor), I think it sapped a lot of the emotion out of the crowd and them.”

“We made a couple mistakes and we just didn’t respond,” said Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges. “We got frustrated and started making plays that weren’t working. When you get that far behind, it’s too hard to recover.”

As fans made their way out the Bell Centre, Matt Bradley had three chances on a helpless Price before finally connecting with 45 seconds remaining.

Varlamov had 27 saves for the win in the Washington goal.

“He loves these kinds of situations,” Fehr said on his goalie. “He’s a big-name player and he did a great job.”

On the stat sheet, the Canadiens remain weak in the faceoff circle but if anything positive came out of the loss, the Canadiens continue to shut down the Capitals power play, which sits at 0-for-13.

“We suck right now,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said on his team’s struggle with the man advantage. “It’s the worst stretch that we’ve gone through. We’ve had some good looks and chances, but none went in.”

The Canadiens also kept a better pace in hits, laying out 19 to Washington’s 22.

Game Four goes Wednesday night at 7pm. The Canadiens will have a 4pm practice at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.

“We gotta respond and regroup tomorrow,” Gomez added, “We had our chances, we could have made the game a little different.

Though it won’t be official until Wednesday afternoon, one has to think that Price will get the start in goal.

The Canadiens netminder was able to defend his fellow backstop, who arguably cant have all the blame for all three goals pinned on him, “The best thing about Jaro is that he’s head strong. He’s a confident guy and I don’t think he’ll let that bother him at all.”

Game’s Three Stars: 1. Simeon Varlamov 2. Brooks Laich 3. Tom Poti

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