MONTREAL – The Washington Capitals did exactly what they came to the boisterous Bell Centre to do: silence the crowd, rattle goalie Jaroslav Halak and come away with a win.
Boyd Gordon jumped on a mistake by Montreal defenceman Jaroslav Spacek to score a short-handed goal and spark a four-goal second period as the Capitals skated to a 5-1 victory over the Canadiens on Monday night.
Washington holds a 2-1 edge in the best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final heading into Game 4 on Wednesday night.
”It felt good to come into a hostile environment like this and play well,” said Washington forward Eric Fehr. ”It was crazy.
”We got a break on Gordon’s goal and that turned it around for us.”
The Capitals have an impressive array of offensive talent, but other than a classic goal on an unstoppable shot by Alex Ovechkin, it was support players Gordon, Fehr and Matt Bradley, as well as power winger Brooks Laich, that did the scoring.
Tomas Plekanec had Montreal’s only goal.
The Canadiens controlled most of the first period, but couldn’t convert on a half dozen chances on Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Their play had the crowd of 21,273 singing “Ole Ole,” and razzing Ovechkin each time he touched the puck.
But only 12 seconds after Tomas Fleischmann took a hooking penalty in the opening minute of the second period, the Capitals got a 2-on-1 short-handed break and Spacek accidentally backed into Halak, knocking him over and leaving the net open for Gordon to score his first career playoff goal at 1:06.
Halak looked shaky from then on. Laich’s long shot beat him 4:42 and Fehr banged in a rebound at 8:33, at which point, Montreal coach Jacques Martin sent Carey Price into the net to enthusiastic applause.
”Halak played a strong first game and he had a good first period tonight,” said Martin, who now must decide whether to go back to Halak or send Price in for Game 4. ”The defenceman backed into him and he didn’t have a chance.
”It changed the momentum of the game.”
The three goals came in a six-shot span on Halak, who faced 13 shots overall. Price stopped 21 of 23 shots.
Washington was coming off a 6-5 comeback victory in overtime in Game 2, when they erased a 4-1 Montreal lead with five goals in a 23-minute span. From the end of the second period of Game 2 to the middle frame of Game 3, Halak allowed eight goals on 30 shots.
Ovechkin took a pass in the right circle and roof a wrist shot Price likely never saw and Bradley scored with 45 seconds left to play on his third whack at the puck.
Plekanec scored on a power play in the third period for Montreal, which fired 27 shots at Varlamov.
Now it’s up to the eighth-seeded Canadiens to find an answer to the top-ranked Capitals.
”It’s the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if the score is 10-1 or 3-2, it’s one game,” said Plekanec. ”We’ll regroup.”
The Capitals like their position, but say they won’t let up now that they have taken back the home ice advantage for the series they gave up by losing the opener 3-2 at home.
”They’ve got one of the smartest, if not the smartest, coach in the NHL,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”They’ll make adjustments and they’ll come out with a lot of energy on Wednesday.”
He liked the way his team reacted to the noise and energy in the Bell Centre.
”The crowd was loud and crazy _ crazy good,” he said. ”There was a tremendous buzz.
”We led the league in road victories this year. We’re a good road team. And sometimes you forget that it’s good for the road team too.”
After falling behind 4-0, the Canadiens let their frustration show as Scott Gomez was handed a misconduct for something he said in a skirmish and Plekanec was handed two minors for interference and for complaining about the call.
When Plekanec got out of the penalty box to put Montreal on a power play in the third period, he went to the slot and put in his own rebound at 2:25 for his third of the series.
The Capitals, who had the best power play success rate this season, went 0-for-7 with the man advantage and are now 0-for-13 in the series.
”We suck,” Boudreau said of his power play. ”It’s the worst stretch we’ve had.
”We had looks and none went in and the you get frustrated. I’m sure that eventually we’ll get a goal on it _ maybe not this series. Maybe next year.”
Montreal was 1-for-5 and is now 3-for-12.
Notes _ In the crowd was former Canadiens captain Jean Beliveau, looking his old self after recovering from a mild stroke in January. . . Glen Metropolit, who returned earlier than expected from a shoulder injury, was back in the Montreal lineup, while Sergei Kostitsyn was made a healthy scratch. . . Gordon was back in the Capitals lineup after missing a game, bumping David Steckel to the pressbox. . .Even in the pre-game warm-up, fans were razzing Caps goalie and former Canadien Jose Theodore, chanting Tay-O, even though he wasn’t the starter. . . Seated behind the Canadiens bench was boxer Lucian Bute, who defended his IBF super-middleweight title Saturday at the Bell Centre.