Saturday, April 17, 2010

Capitals/Canadiens Game Two: Backstrom and Ovechkin escape potential Habs strangle hold


Mike Knuble (l) celebrates with Nicklas Backstrom (r) after Backstrom scores the overtime winner in Game Two – Photo: Chuck Myers (MCT)

The Montreal Canadiens were looking to extend on their stunning Game One victory and continue to contain Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. It looked like they might for the first 28 minutes. It wouldn’t be the case as the Capitals came back from a three-goal deficit to win 6-5 in overtime.

Washington came out early, with Ovechkin dishing out some early hits, but the Canadiens needed just one shot from Brian Gionta to take a 1-0 at the 1:00 mark.

Montreal got their second goal on their second shot of the night, when Andrei Kostitsyn was left wide open in front of the net at 7:58. Capitals goalie Jose Theodore was immediately pulled for Semeon Varlamov.

image Simoen Varlamov relieves Jose Theodore in the first period of Game Two – Photo :Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau hoped the goaltending change would wake his troops up and give them some momentum. He certainly got their attention when Tomas Fleischmann broke up a Montreal offensive sending Eric Fehr in on a breakaway, going high blocker on Jaroslav Halak.

It was a first period dominated on the stat sheet, with Washington leading in shots (13-8), total chances (31-14), hits (18-4) and faceoffs (12-5). Ovechkin managed to get on the shot count with two and had seven hits.

Nonetheless, the Canadiens led 2-1 after 20 minutes.

“We knew that it was coming (the Capitals offense),” said Gionta between periods. “We had to get behind them and exploit their D.”

Montreal began mounting an impressive defense in the second period, keeping the majority of Washington’s shots to the perimeter.

Kostitsyn scored his second on the night at 11:06, again left open for a Mike Cammalleri pass, to give the Canadiens a two-goal lead.

image This play was reviewed after Andrei Kostitsyn’s third goal, during the second period. It was questioned if the puck had crossed the line earlier in the play. Photo: Chuck Myers (MCT)

The sold-out Verizon Center crowd soon began showing their displeasure as a chorus of boos echoed from the seats.

It didn’t get better for the home crowd as the Canadiens went on the power play and Kostitsyn got his first career playoff hat trick, at 17:44, by deflecting in a Jaroslav Spacek point shot.

Kostitsyn’s three-goal night was the first for a Canadiens player in the post-season since Eric Desjardins turned the trick in Game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals.

“He played great. He went to the net and did what he was supposed to do every night,” said Kostitsyn’s linemate Tomas Plekanec. “Hopefully he can keep that up and keep scoring to help us to win.”


Andrei Kostitsyn scores the first of his three goals on the night in the first period of Game Two – Photo: Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)

The Capitals kept it within two when Nicklas Backstrom blew a shot past a screened Halak 37 seconds later.

“He’s a guy you’ve definitely have to key on,” said Canadiens defenceman Hall Gill. “But he’s not the only guy. They have a lot of good players that can make plays and score goals.”

One thing the Canadiens need to know is that any lead against the Washington Capitals is not safe. Washington was second overall in the league when trailing after the first period (8-7-2), and first overall when trailing after two (8-10-4). They were also an impressive 16-8-6 when their opponents scored the first goal in a game.

Montreal fought off a Cammalleri slashing call early in the third period, but Ovechkin finally got in the goal column when he came off the bench to shovel a rebound between Halak’s pads at 2:56.

With Mike Knuble crashing the net, Backstrom one-timed an Ovechkin pass for his second goal at 9:47 to tie it up.

The Canadiens regained their lead five minutes later ,when Roman Hamrlik battled the puck from Knuble and got it to Plekanec. The centre played give and go with Cammalleri, around defenceman Mike Green, before putting the puck past Varlamov.

The Capitals, sporting the top power play in the regular season, had two more opportunities late in the period but Halak and the Canadiens held them back.

With just over a minute to play, and a possible delayed penalty coming to Montreal, Capitals rookie John Carlson fired a shot from  just outside the faceoff circle to take the game into overtime.

of the 37 shots he would face on the night, the Carlson one would be the one that Halak would want back.

It didn’t take long (31 seconds) for Backstrom to complete his hat trick with a wrist shot between the hash marks that tied the series at a game apiece.

“The second period was kind of embarrassing," Backstrom said, talking on the Capitals’ second period collapse that led to a three-goal deficit. "We stepped it up at the end of the second and the third. We never gave up, and that's a good sign, I think.”

image Alexander Ovechkin lays out one of his eight hit in Game Two on Scott Gomez –Photo: Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)

Ovechkin, who had no shots in Game One, had a four point night (1G, 3A) in just over 20 minutes of ice time.

“I played my game. Some days you’re in a good mood, some days a bad mood,” he said. “Today we were in a good mood.”

“You could see his energy, his desire and his leadership,” coach Boudreau said of Ovechkin, a change from calling him out two nights earlier. “The difference (from Game 1) was like night and day.”

“He's a big part of this team, a big key,” Backstrom added. “It was good to see him get going again and hopefully we can keep going on the road.”

The Canadiens managed a split in the first two games as it now becomes a best-of-five series heading in to Montreal.

“We went on the road and we got one against the best team in the league,” Gill later said. “We can’t match them individually and have to play them as a team. We’re going to go home to a great crowd and feed off that.”

Games three and four go Monday and Wednesday at the Bell Centre.

Having played a seven game series in every NHL playoff round he’s been in, Ovechkin is well aware that it is far from over.

“It’s mentality important for us to win tonight, but it’s not done yet.”

Three Stars: 1. Nicklas Backstrom 2. Andrei Kostitsyn 3. Alex Ovechkin

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