WASHINGTON — Don't count out the
Washington Capitals, no matter how big the deficit, no matter how dire
Nicklas Backstrom completed a hat
trick by scoring only 31 seconds into overtime, helping the top-seeded
Capitals finish a wild comeback to beat the Montreal Canadiens 6-5
Saturday night and even their first-round Eastern Conference playoff
series at a game apiece.
Montreal led 2-0 after its first two
shots, prompting Washington to yank goalie Jose Theodore, and then went
ahead 4-1. But with Alex Ovechkin producing a goal and three assists,
the Capitals kept rallying.
Rookie defenseman John Carlson tied it
at 5-all with 1:21 left in regulation, and Backstrom's wrister past
Jaroslav Halak won it.
Game 3 is Monday in Montreal.
Andrei Kostitsyn had a hat trick for
the eighth-seeded Canadiens, and Tomas Plekanec put them ahead 5-4 with
5:06 left in regulation. But Carlson picked a fine time for his second
NHL score — he had one in 22 regular-season games.
Montreal was ahead 4-2 heading into
the third period, but Ovechkin's first goal of the postseason made it a
one-goal game at 2:56. Carlson took a slap shot from the blue line that
Halak blocked, but Ovechkin sneaked behind Montreal's defense and poked
the puck through the goalie's legs while diving headfirst.
Ovechkin leaped up, bounced off the
ice and threw his arms overhead to celebrate. Skating back to the bench,
he pointed with his right glove, making a No. 1 sign.
About 30 seconds later, things got
testy, with Ovechkin mixing it up with Brian Gionta, followed by a fight
between Washington's Tom Poti and Montreal's Scott Gomez.
With 10 minutes left in the third,
Backstrom poked in a pass from Ovechkin — reversing their usual roles,
which designate the Swede as the passer and the Russian as the scorer.
The game was tied 4-4, and Backstrom
pounded his gloves against the glass.
The Canadiens held Ovechkin in check
in Game 1: It was the first zero-goal, zero-assist, zero-shots-on-goal
performance of his NHL career.
So Saturday, Ovechkin came out
aggressively, leveling Marc-Andre Bergeron right away and putting a shot
on goal less than 10 seconds into his opening shift, a tapper that
Halak easily swept away with his stick. By the time the game was 13
minutes old, Ovechkin already had accumulated six hits.
Still, it took exactly a minute for
Montreal to take a 1-0 lead, when Gomez passed to Gionta as he came
across the blue line on a counterattack. Gionta let fly a slap shot that
sailed inside the post.
That was Montreal's first shot of the
game and, remarkably, its only one until 7:58, when Kostitsyn stole the
puck in the neutral zone, skated past two passive Capitals defensemen
and put the puck past Theodore.
That was that for 2002 NHL MVP
Theodore, who slammed his stick when he reached the Capitals' bench.
Going back to Game 1, that ended with Montreal winning 3-2 on Plekanec's
goal 13:19 into overtime, Theodore had allowed goals on three
Fans applauded and chanted "Var-lee!
Var-lee!" as Semyon Varlamov skated out to replace Theodore in goal, and
they roared less than 20 seconds later, when the Russian blocked the
first shot Montreal sent his way.
So much for Capitals coach Bruce
Boudreau's vow before the series began that "there is no short leash"
for Theodore this time. In last season's playoffs, Theodore lost Game 1
of the first round against the New York Rangers, then was benched in
favor of Varlamov, who had played only six games in the regular season.
Varlamov anchored the Capitals until a Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh in the
The Capitals got back into the game
less than 2 1/2 minutes after Kostitsyn's first goal of the night,
pulling within 2-1 when Eric Fehr took a pass from Tomas Fleischmann
that set up a breakaway and beat Halak 1-on-1.
Washington trailed after the first
period despite outshooting Montreal 13-8 and building up an 18-4 edge in
Kostitsyn scored again 11:06 into the
second period to put Montreal ahead 3-1.
The Canadiens made it 4-1 on a power
play when Kostitsyn was credited with the goal at 17:44 of the second
Jaroslav Spacek, the defenseman doing
such stellar work shadowing Ovechkin, took a slap shot from the blue
line, and the puck appeared to ricochet off Washington defenseman Jeff
Schultz's stick before clanging through a group in front of the crease.
When play resumed after a long delay
while Montreal's third goal was reviewed on video, Washington needed
only 39 seconds to cut the deficit to 4-2. Backstrom scored his second
goal of the series on a shot from a tough angle wide of the left circle,
and Ovechkin was credited with the secondary assist.
Kostitsyn scored three goals
in a regular-season game against Pittsburgh on Dec. 27, 2008. …
Washington's first power play came with 20.8 seconds left in the second
period, when Mike Cammalleri was whistled for slashing.
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