WASHINGTON — On a night in which the NHL's two-time reigning MVP didn't take a shot on goal, the Montreal Canadiens took advantage by upsetting the league's top-seeded team in overtime.
Tomas Plekanec scored 13:19 into the extra period Thursday as the eighth-seeded Canadiens beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 and — even more amazingly — turned Alex Ovechkin into a non-factor.
Plekanec traded gibes this week with Washington goalie Jose Theodore, who ended up essentially saying that Plekanec was no Jaromir Jagr. Plekanec got the last word by taking the puck near the red line, skating into the offensive zone and scoring on a drive from high in the slot that beat Theodore to the stick side.
Mike Cammalleri scored for Montreal on a power play in the first period, and Scott Gomez tied it at 2 with 12:26 to play in regulation. Jaroslav Halak stopped 36 shots.
Joe Corvo had a first-period goal, and Nicklas Backstrom scored early in the third for the Capitals, whose top-rated power play went 0-for-4. Jose Theodore made 44 saves.
Game 2 is Saturday night in Washington.
Ovechkin scored 50 goals in the regular season and took an NHL-high 368 shots, but he said Thursday morning he might be "a little bit nervous and a little bit shaky" in his third go-round in the playoffs. Maybe that caused him and his teammates to use up all their energy in the first period — because the Capitals controlled the flow of play early, then looked exhausted as the game wore on.
It didn't help that Ovechkin was shadowed most everywhere he went by defenseman Jaroslav Spacek. Ovechkin had five shot attempts blocked. The Capitals played at their preferred up-and-down pace for a little more than a period, and the Canadiens controlled the rest of the game.
The Capitals had their best season in franchise history and won the Presidents' Trophy for the first time, while the Canadiens didn't secure a playoff berth until the next-to-last day. Washington had 313 goals, the most by a team since 1995-96. It also led the NHL with 213 5-on-5 goals, while Montreal was last with 132.
Sure enough, the Capitals were outshooting the Canadiens 7-0 after six minutes, and Ovechkin was throwing himself around the ice.
But the Canadiens' power play was solid — ranking second only behind the Capitals' — and it paid off after Backstrom took an unwise retaliation penalty for cross-checking Spacek in clear view in front of the net midway through the first period.
Twenty-five seconds later, Cammalleri took Andrei Markov's pass and beat Theodore stick-side with a drive from the right circle.
The Capitals tied it later in the period with a trio of players acquired at the trade deadline. Jason Chimera and Eric Belanger supplied the assists for Corvo's wrister from the blue line that sneaked through traffic and grazed the handle of Halak's stick as it went into the net.
The Capitals outshot the Canadiens 19-7 in the first period — with none from Ovechkin.
As the second period progressed, however, the flow of play was more to the Canadiens' liking. The Capitals couldn't clear the puck or pull off a decent line change for long stretches, but they didn't suffer any damage. The 20 minutes went scoreless, and the teams went into the third tied 1-1.
Backstrom, who spent much of the last few days in bed with an illness and still had the sniffles after the morning skate, gave the Capitals the lead 47 seconds into the third period. After Montreal's Hal Gill couldn't get enough of his stick on the puck to clear, Mike Knuble pounced and slid a slick pass sideways to Backstrom, whose wrister from the slot left Halak no chance.
But the Canadiens tied it again when Gomez got behind defenseman Mike Green to tap in Brian Gionta's pass.
Plekanec and Theodore provided the bulletin board material in the buildup to the series. Plekanec basically said that Theodore was no Martin Brodeur or Ryan Miller, and Theodore shot back that Plekanec wasn't exactly Jagr. When Theodore stopped Plekanec on back-to-back shots in the second period, the crowd chanted "Thee-oh, Thee-oh!"
But Plekanec silenced them all.
Perhaps the Canadiens drew inspiration from Wednesday's results, when three of four games were won by lower-seeded teams — and the fourth was widely considered an upset, too. "It's been talked about. I don't think it is anything new to anybody, but it reaffirms to you that anything can happen. Anybody can beat anybody in this league," Cammalleri said after the morning's skate. "It was an interesting turn of events last night." Unfortunately, Cammalleri couldn't watch Wednesday's games because he couldn't get them on the TV in his hotel room. "That's just disappointing to me," Cammalleri said. "Happened to me last year, too." … The Capitals sold out every game this season for the first time, and 18,000 red-clad, towel-waving fans kept the Verizon Center loud from the moment that the Stanley Cup was shown on the video screen before the game, accompanied by the words "Nothing Else Matters."
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