BROSSARD, Que. – There is no room for the Montreal Canadiens to let another victory slip away.
The Canadiens will play for survival when they face the high-powered Capitals in Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference playoff series on Friday night in Washington (TSN, 7 p.m. ET). The Caps lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and another win will send the Canadiens on an early vacation.
The series has gone exactly as most predicted, with the top-seeded Capitals turning on the attack when needed to overwhelm the eighth-seeded Canadiens, who finished 33 points behind Washington in the regular season.
It has driven the Canadiens and their fans to distraction to see the team dominate a period or two only to see Washington crank up its league-best offence and skate away with victories in the last three games.
Forward Mike Cammalleri, the team’s scoring leader with two goals and four assists, said Thursday it does no good to dwell on what might have been.
”We can’t be thinking about where we could be or anything like that,” Cammalleri said. ”We have to be aware of where we are.
”We’re still alive. It’s not easy for us. It’s a challenge to get up, but that’s the fun of the playoffs.”
The Canadiens held a team meeting Thursday at their suburban practice facility to sort out what went wrong in Game 4 on Wednesday night. Montreal outplayed the Capitals for 40 minutes only to be blown out in the final period of a 6-3 defeat.
For a second game in a row, the turning point was a short-handed goal.
In Game 3 on Monday night, Boyd Gordon’s short-handed effort ignited a four-goal second period en route to a 5-1 Capitals win.
Two nights later, Gordon set up Mike Knuble to tie the game at two with seven seconds left in the second period, despite being outshot 21-9 in the frame. Washington piled on four more goals in the third.
”The hard part is you work so hard to gain the lead and put yourselves in that spot (a 2-1 lead) and then you give it up in a situation where you feel like you’re giving it to them,” said Cammalleri. ”You’d like to make a team like Washington earn their goals.
”Not that they haven’t earned a lot of their goals, but it seems like we’ve given them a couple and you can’t afford to do that with them. So that’s more where the disappointment lies, more so than the timing of that goal.”
The Canadiens, who won the series opener 3-2 in overtime in Washington, hoped to stop their slide by making a goaltending change, giving Carey Price his first start in Game 4 in place of the apparently rattled Jaroslav Halak.
Price had a decent game, allowing four goals on 36 shots (two others were scored into an empty net), but he was overshadowed by Washington’s Semyon Varlamov, who was a wizard with the glove in stopping 36 of 39 shots.
Now there are no new cards left to play, unless they call up hot defence prospect P.K. Subban from Hamilton of the American Hockey League. Coach Jacques Martin said that would be general manager Pierre Gauthier’s call and, while he said nothing specific, he didn’t sound like that would happen. The Canadiens have the right to only one more call-up from the minors.
Martin rarely says much of anything specific when he meets with the media, but he went out of character for a moment when asked about the play of veteran defenceman Roman Hamrlik, who was having a strong game Wednesday until his inability to control a puck led to Knuble’s short-handed goal.
”Without getting in player evaluation, he’s probably a player we need more (from),” said Martin.
Defence is a concern for the Canadiens.
Hamrlik’s partner Jaroslav Spacek, who is relied upon to check Caps star Alex Ovechkin, missed Game 4 with a virus. He did not make the trip to Washington and won’t play Game 5. Gaffe-prone Marc-Andre Bergeron, who Martin hoped to move up to forward, stayed on defence and was minus-3, making him minus-8 for the series.
DefencemanRyan O’Byrne saw his first action, got 13:05 of ice time and finished plus-1.
The Canadiens hope to repeat their feat of 2004, when they came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Boston Bruins, but it seems a tall order against the Capitals.
Forward Brian Gionta said the Canadiens need to get more players to Washington’s net to screen shots and make things difficult for Varlamov.
He also takes heart in the fact that the Canadiens have generally done well this season in must-win situations.
”When our backs are against the wall we seem to respond extremely well,” he said. ”Hopefully we can do it one more time.”
Cammalleri had a message to the Bell Centre spectators who, ignoring a scoreboard appeal to show respect, booed or chanted during the U.S. national anthem before Game 4.
”I noticed there was some booing of the anthem and I would say that we really appreciate our fans, but I don’t think its right that we boo anthems,” he said. ”I think we should be a little bit more respectful when it comes to that.”
Nearly all of them had quieted by the time the anthem was over, but it is a problem that has persisted for years at Montreal home playoff games.
The Capitals didn’t skate Thursday and that was a relief to the players. Their plane arrived at Baltimore Washington International Airport after the game at 1 a.m. and then they had to wait another three hours because there were no customs inspectors on duty.
”I didn’t get to bed until 5 a.m.,” defenceman Joe Corvo said in Washington. ”I’m a little foggy today.”