Before we begin, a quick look at the last 12 goals scored in the Capitals-Canadiens series (Period-Time-Strength-Team-Goalscorer, courtesy NHL.com):
Game 2 (6-5 WSH)
2 18:23 EV WSH 19 N.BACKSTROM(2)
3 2:56 EV WSH 8 A.OVECHKIN(1)
3 9:47 EV WSH 19 N.BACKSTROM(3)
3 14:54 EV MTL 14 T.PLEKANEC(2)
3 18:39 EV WSH 74 J.CARLSON(1)
OT 0:31 EV WSH 19 N.BACKSTROM(4)
Game 3 (5-1 WSH)
2 1:06 SH WSH 15 B.GORDON(1)
2 4:42 EV WSH 21 B.LAICH(1)
2 8:33 EV WSH 16 E.FEHR(2)
2 13:50 EV WSH 8 A.OVECHKIN(2)
3 2:25 PP MTL 14 T.PLEKANEC(3)
3 19:15 EV WSH 10 M.BRADLEY(1)
There is jumping all over a team, and there’s what the Capitals have done to Montreal in the second half of Game 2 and all of Game 3. Nick Backstrom, who has cemented himself on the next edition of “10 Greatest Capitals Games” for his Game 2 hat trick and OT winner, got things going in the right direction with his late 2nd period tally in Saturday night’s contest.
However, it was the man everyone (including himself and his coach) called out for an unspectacular Game 1 that shifted the momentum in the series. It wasn’t one of Ovechkin’s typical goals, with the monstrous winger tearing down the left side, wrongfooted, ripping a snapshot. It was a simple, hard work, garbage goal early in the third period of Game 2. Following up on a John Carlson slapshot from the point, Ovechkin went to his knees, prayed to the hockey gods, and bludgeoned the hell out of an unsettled puck between Jaroslav Halak’s pads.
It was his first goal of the playoffs. The Verizon Center crowd went bananas. They needed to see him score. Backstrom and Carlson’s goals would be more decisive in the Capitals first win of the series, but Ovechkin’s goal yielded a spiritual impact that was like an alarm clock to the Caps and their fans. “This is a special hockey team,” they were reminded. Halak turned to complain to the referee and to any teammate that would listen. No whistle had blown, but it also was unclear whether he really had the puck covered. Sometimes it’s as important to be lucky as it is to be good.
On the heels of Backstrom’s heroic performance in Game 2, the Capitals headed north to a raucous environment, facing a franchise and fanbase that has won more Stanley Cups (24) than players NHL teams are allowed to keep on an active roster (23). A smattering of boos met the U.S. National Anthem at the Bell Centre. Montreal smelled blood in the water.
Then the Capitals opened fire. Bruce Boudreau’s gutsy call to start Semyon Varlamov in net in favor of Jose Theodore paid off. Boyd Gordon got a sweater after sitting out Game 2, and not only scored the shorthanded goal that ignited the 5-1 drubbing, but won 11 of his 12 faceoffs.
It was a good old-fashioned trip to the woodshed.
By the end, Halak had been run in favor of Carey Price, who fared marginally better. The boos turned to silence. The proud fans of the storied franchise were exiting their seats with an entire period to play. Game 4, and a chance to bring the hammer down on this window of opportunity, awaits the Caps on Wednesday.
To win the Cup, you can’t grind your way to 16 wins with phyrric victories at every turn. You have to help yourself out when you can, shorten every series possible. Since the league went to the 7-game, 4-round format in 1986-87, no team has played in three Game 7s and won the Cup. Only a handful played in two Game 7s and won it all. Essentially, you’ve got one Game 7 to spend, maybe two if you’re extremely lucky. You can’t afford to burn it on an 8-seed like Montreal.
By riding this current momentum swing and putting the Canadiens away even in 6 games, saving a Game 7 effort for a Pittsburgh or a Boston, the Capitals could do wonders for their Stanley Cup dreams.
Dave Gilmore writes about the Capitals every Tuesday and Thursday for Baltimore Sports Report. You can reach him via email at BaltimoreCaps@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BaltimoreCaps.