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Caps have Montreal Backed in a Corner

With Washington having a 2-1 advantage in the series entering game four, Montreal finds itself staring into the abyss. Montreal dominated Washington for the first 111 minutes of this series holding the highest scoring team in the league to a paltry three goals while scoring seven of their own.

The last 82 minutes however have been quite a different story as Washington has scored ten goals to Montreal’s two.

Game one was not a good showing for Washington who uncharacteristically lost on home ice. Game two was looking like more of the same as Montreal scored two goals on their first two shots of the game.

Ordinarily, a coach will give a goal-tender “three-strikes” before giving him the hook, but Washington’s Coach Bruce Boudreau decided he’d seen enough and asked Jose Theodore to have a seat, sending in second-year goalie Semyon Varlamov. Theodore was clearly not happy as this had to feel all-too-familiar to the veteran net-minder as the very same thing happened to him last year. In the 2008-09 series, Theodore gave up the cage for Varlamov against New York in the first round and never got it back.

Shortly after Varlamov was inserted versus Montreal, the Capitals responded cutting the Canadien’s lead in half, but it wouldn’t be long before Varlamov had been beaten twice and now the Caps were down 4-1. As Montreal celebrated their “back-breaking” fourth goal (a hat-trick for left-winger Andrei Kostitsyn) Washington finally woke up and realized they might very well lose this series if they didn’t get serious.

Nicklas Backstrom would have none of that and less than a minute later he scored his first goal of the night, cutting the deficit to two goals by the end of the second period.

I’d love to know what was said in the locker-room between the second and third periods; whatever it was fired up the team’s offense, as Washington came out and like a team possessed to start the third period. Two-time reigning league MVP Alex Ovechkin gave Washington a much needed goal less than three minutes into the third period and seven minutes later it was Nick Backstrom tying the game up for Washington.

Late in the third it looked like Washington’s come-back was going to be all for naught when Montreal’s overtime hero of game one, Tomas Plekanec scored what looked to be the game winner with just over five minutes to go. The hero for Washington was rookie defenseman John Carlson scoring with about a 1:20 left in regulation that would force the overtime with both teams tied at five goals apiece.

Washington had overcome a three goal deficit and a one goal deficit in the final minutes and now had new life in the extra frame. Turns out, 0:31 seconds was all Washington needed as Nicklas Backstrom scored his hat-trick (third goal) that sent the red-clad faithful at Verizon Center into a euphoric uproar and gave Washington new life in the series.

The goalie controversy started immediately. “Did Boudreau pull Theodore too early?’ “Who will the Caps start in game three; Theodore or Varlamov?” Many pundits felt that Theodore wasn’t given a fair chance, and that there was nothing he could have done on the two goals scored on him. The prevailing theory was that Theo was scape-goated for poor defensive play and deserved a second chance.

So when all signs pointed to Varlamov getting the nod for game three, the media had a field day. While Varly had made some impressive stops in game two, the fact was he still gave up three goals on home ice. Now this relative newcomer was going to Montreal where even though they only had 4,000 more fans than Verizon Center, the crowd would be twice as loud. Everyone from Washington Post Live to ComcastSportsnet felt that Boudreau was making a tactical error by not putting Theo back out there.

That wasn’t all; Coach Boudreau had also decided to scratch David Steckel in favor of Boyd Gordon. It was Steckel, who had been a consistent face-off winner versus Gordon who seemed to have trouble staying on his skates in game one.

Montreal felt pretty confident. So confident in fact that even though the series was tied at one apiece, Michael Cammalleri (a left winger for Montreal) stated that he felt all the pressure was on Washington. “They have to win, and we want to win.” Said Cammalleri.

The crowd was definitely living up to the hype in the first period of game three. They were so loud you could barely hear the game announcers yelling the play-by-play. The crowd booed Jose Theodore during warm-ups and every time Ovechkin touched the puck; chants of “O-VIE SUCKS” rained down from the rafters. Both teams fought to a draw at the end of the first period with stellar stops by both teams goal-tenders made at both ends of the ice.

Heckling chants of “VAR-LEEEE” rained down as the crowd tried to get in the head of the young Washington goalie but he would not be fazed.

The crowd was having fun and was at their loudest 0:54 seconds into the second period when their Montreal squad was put on the power-play thanks to a hooking penalty on Thomas Fleischmann. Their fun wouldn’t last long; just 0:12 seconds later, Boyd Gordon (the questionable call by Coach Boudreau) was flying up the ice towards Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak and had gotten a short-handed goal putting Washington up by a goal.

Seven and a half minutes later and the crowd was taken out of the game as Washington now had a three goal lead thanks to Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr. It would be the end of the night for Jaroslav Halak as Carey Price was sent in to relieve the embittered net-minder.

It didn’t take Washington long to score on Price and give themselves a comfortable four goal lead thanks to an Ovechkin slapshot just past the midway point of regulation.

Montreal would ruin Varlamov’s shut-out by scoring early in the third period, but at the end it was Matt Bradley who would give Washington back their four goal lead with less than a minute left in regulation.

Coach Boudreau ended up proving his critics wrong as Varlamov improved his season record versus Montreal to 3-0-0 with a 1368 Goals Against Average and a .940 save percentage. Boyd Gordon was the igniter for Washington’s offensive explosion in the second period when he not only scored the team’s first goal, but he did so short-handed.

Montreal has a second chance against Washington tonight, but they have to be thinking “what do we do now?” Washington has now out-scored them 11-6 in the past two games. It’s obvious that Washington has figured out how to beat Jaroslav Halak, so it is most likely that Carey Price will get the nod for Montreal in net tonight.

Montreal is on the precipice; tonight is a must win for them. They have to make it up to their fans tonight otherwise they face Washington, in Washington on Friday with a three games to one disadvantage. Washington needs to be ready for a desperate team tonight.

It’s going to be hard for Montreal to shake off this most recent, confidence busting loss. The only hope for Montreal is to go hard on the offensive and put Washington on defense. This will be counter-intuitive as Montreal will risk leaving their back-up net-minder on an island, but the only way to beat Washington is to force them back into their own zone.

Varlamov has given his team-mates faith in him again, so expect Washington to look for the break-out pass at every opportunity. Washington wants this game so they can win the series at home in game five. Montreal needs this game if they want a chance at a game six back in Montreal.

Tonight’s game is pivotal; for both teams.

Go Caps!!

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