The Montreal Canadiens fairly dominated play in the second period of tonight's Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. They outshot the Washington Capitals 21-9 in the frame, setting a team record for most shots against in a period for a playoff game.
And when the Caps took a bench minor for too many men on the ice at 18:05 trailing 2-1, things looked pretty bleak.
But with seven seconds remaining, Boyd Gordon made a terrific saucer pass over a sprawled defenseman right to the tape of Mike Knuble, who calmly finished the play by redirecting the pass into the net behind goalie Carey Price.
The short-handed goal turned the momentum, which had been squarely with Montreal, back to the Caps favor as the teams headed into the locker room for intermission.
After the break, the game took a different tenor, with the Capitals taking control of the game, and quite possibly this first round series, scoring four goals and outshooting the Canadiens 20-6 in the third. The final score, 6-3, was as impressive as it sounds.
The dramatic turn-around would not have been possible without the outstanding play of goalie Semyon Varlamov, especially in that second period. The young netminder made three terrific glove saves late in the period, robbing Mike Cammelleri point blank from the bottom of the circle, keeping the game close until the Caps' offense could catch up.
Varlamov made 36 saves on 39 shots, most of which were in the first two periods when the outcome was still very much in doubt.
The captain, Alex Ovechkin, scored twice and added an assist. He started the scoring, notching a power play goal in the first period, ending an 0-for-15 skid in this series. And his tally in the third period was the straw that broke Montreal's back.
Alexander Semin, who has been mostly invisible in this series, dug a puck off the board at the end of his shift and hit a streaking Ovechkin coming through the neutral zone. The reigning back-to-back Hart Trophy winner faked out Hal Gill, turning the defenseman inside out, and sent a laser past Price to break a 2-2 tie.
Less than a minute later, Matt Bradley did some terrific work behind Price, brought the puck out above the goal line, and whipped a back-hand no-look cross-crease pass to Jason Chimera, who simply banged the puck into the open net.
Just like that, a tense, competitive game turned into a decisive decision for the league's top scoring team.
Mike Knuble and Nicklas Backstrom both added empty net goals for the final count.
Price took two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the third period, both times firing the puck into the Caps players celebrating goals that he could not stop. Price, brought in to replace Jaroslav Halak in Game Three and given the start in Game Four, did not look particularly sharp.
It will be interesting to see which goalie Montreal coach Pierre Gauthier turns to with his team down 3-1, heading back to Verizon Center, one of the toughest places for visiting teams to walk out a winner this season.
Whoever that goalie is, he'll face Varlamov, who finally has played himself into shape. It's no underestimation that this game would have had a different result had Varlamov not been his absolute best in that second period.
Momentum is fickle, to be sure. But it swung hard at the end of that second period, and it swung to a team that many finally be finding their killer instinct.