WASHINGTON – Tomas Plekanec finally made news for the right reasons.
Plekanec scored on a slapshot at 13:19 of the first overtime as the Montreal Canadiens stole home ice advantage away from the Washington Capitals with a 3-2 win Thursday night.
Plekanec made headlines this week by saying Washington’s goaltenders were not as good as Buffalo’s Ryan Miller or New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, providing fodder for discussion in the Capitals dressing room, and drawing a somewhat derisive reply from Caps goalie and former teammate Jose Theodore.
But Plekanec backed it up with his fifth career playoff goal in his 22nd game to give the eighth-seeded Canadiens a huge win over the President’s Trophy winners from Washington.
“That’s a huge goal for our team,” Plekanec said. “It doesn’t matter who scored the goal in the playoffs, everybody just has to do their jobs and that’s what we did.”
Mike Cammalleri and Scott Gomez scored in regulation for the Canadiens while Nicklas Backstrom and Joe Corvo replied for the Capitals.
The Canadiens finished 33 points behind the Capitals in the standings, leading most to believe they stand little to no chance of winning the series. But Montreal split the four-game regular-season series with Washington and handed the Capitals one of only five regulation losses they’ve suffered all year at the Verizon Center.
And on Thursday night, the Habs provided further proof they can make this a competitive series.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise,” Cammalleri said. “There’s a belief in this room that we can win this.”
Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final series goes Saturday night in Washington, and superstar Alexander Ovechkin will have to be much better than he was Thursday if the Capitals want to salvage a split at home.
Ovechkin was a complete non-factor in the game, failing to register a single shot on goal for only the second time this season and getting undressed on the Canadiens tying goal in the third period.
“When you have 50 shots on goal and Ovechkin doesn’t have any, and you’ve got four power plays there’s something (wrong),” Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They took him away pretty good, but I don’t think he played very well tonight.”
Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak shook off a shaky finish to the regular season and shined in only his second career playoff start. He made 39 saves on 41 shots through regulation and stopped all six shots he saw in overtime.
Halak improved to 7-0-0 this year when facing 45 shots or more.
“Jaro was Jaro, he’s been so solid for us all year,” Cammalleri said. “He has to be that way, it really isn’t an option. It’s funny, there’s been times this year when we’ve asked him if he wants more shots because he seems to do so well under that barrage.”
In the Capitals net, Theodore wasn’t nearly as busy but was sharp with 35 stops, but he couldn’t corral Plekanec’s shot in overtime.
“Plekanec made an excellent move,” Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin said. “He used their defenceman to screen their goaltender and got a great shot away.”
With the game tied 1-1 in the third, the Capitals killed off 19 seconds of a penalty that carried over from the second before striking themselves to take the lead.
Rookie defenceman John Carlson took a soft wrist shot from the point that was blocked by Hal Gill, but the puck bounced right to Mike Knuble who fed Backstrom in the slot.
He made no mistake, firing a wrist shot high on Halak’s glove side 47 seconds into the third.
But Gomez got the Canadiens back in the game with a great end-to-end play, single-handedly breaking the Capitals trap with a deke around Ovechkin, handing the puck off and driving the net to tap in a feed from Brian Gionta at 7:34 of the third to make it 2-2.
The Canadiens were overwhelmed at the start by the electricity of the sellout Verizon Center crowd of 18,277 and the relentless Capitals attack. Montreal was outshot 9-2 through the opening 10 minutes and gave up two nervy giveaways in their own end that led to quality scoring chances for Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann.
“We were giving them so many chances and so many shots in the first period,” said Halak, who stopped 18 of 19 shots in the opening 20 minutes. “In the second and third our guys started skating.”
Halak’s play early on allowed the Canadiens to break the ice at 12:36 on the power play when Cammalleri wired a wrist shot under the crossbar off a nice feed from Andrei Markov. The goal snapped a 12-game goal drought for the Canadiens top sniper and put Montreal ahead 1-0.
“It feels good, but more importantly it was a big goal,” Cammalleri said. “It’s our first goal of the playoffs, it gets us a lead, and now we lead the series. All that stuff makes me much happier.”
The Capitals struck right back when Corvo’s floater from the point sailed through a crowd in front and past an unsuspecting Halak at 15:33 to make it 1-1.
Montreal came out for the second much more composed, taking the play to Washington and controlling the puck for the better part of the second half of the period.
“You outshoot a team 19-7 in the first period it’s not going to end up 57-21,” Boudreau said. “I was a little worried after the first that it was a 1-1 tie and we were outplaying them pretty badly.”
The Capitals nearly went ahead about five minutes in when Backstrom’s wrist shot from the slot went off Halak’s glove and landed behind him, only to trickle past the goalpost.
But after killing off a too many men on the ice penalty midway through the second the Canadiens dominated, testing Theodore repeatedly.
Theodore robbed Plekanec twice in a span of a few seconds immediately after that penalty expired.
But Plekanec ultimately got the final word in that duel.
Notes: C Glen Metropolit remained out with a shoulder injury for Montreal, while D Ryan O’Byrne and C Ben Maxwell were scratched…The Capitals were missing D Mila Jurcina (hernia) and scratched W Scott Walker, C Brendan Morrison, W Quentin Laing, D Tyler Sloan and D John Erskine…canadiens winger Mathieu Darche, 33, made his NHL playoff debut… The Capitals 19 first period shots tied a franchise playoff record…Theodore’s career record in the playoffs dropped to 20-28…