The Montreal Canadiens entered Game One of the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs with one goal in mind:  shut down Alex Ovechkin.

They did that and more, keeping Ovechkin without a shot on goal and holding him pointless for the third time this season, defeating the President's Trophy winners 3-2 in overtime.

Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau was frank in his assessment of his superstar's game.

"He didn’t play good. I mean, they gapped up on him really well, but I don’t think Alex played very well. I can’t put my finger on it right now, but when you get 50 shots on goal and Ovechkin doesn’t get any and you have four power plays..."

"They took him away pretty good, but I just didn’t think he was very good tonight.”

Tomas Plekanec sent in the game-winner from the top of the circles at 13:19 into overtime on an awkward shift change and defensive lapse.

Montreal coach Jacques Martin praised his troops on the overtime goal.  “It was a good play by [Montreal defenseman Jaroslav Spacek] to move the puck quickly to set up the two-on-two situation and [Montreal forward Tomas Plekanec] made an excellent move using the defenseman to screen their goaltender and got a great shot away.”

Boudreau saw it differently.
“We were screwing around with it (the puck) instead of taking it back and setting it up and coming out. I think when Joe [Corvo] threw it across the ice, it got redirected and Alex [Ovechkin] was changing and Nicky [Backstrom] got beat and Mike Knuble was caught on the other end of the boards."
"They came up and our defense was caught in transition so they backed up so Plekanec got a chance to walk into the top of the circle and he had a perfect shot.”
Goalie Jose Theodore had a very strong game tonight, making 35 saves on 38 shots.  He was instrumental in keeping the game close--in the second period especially--while the Caps could not musted much offense.
"I thought he kept us in it," Boudreau said.  "In the first period we were really good. In the second period, when they were putting a big push on, he made some big saves to keep it a tied game.”

Washington got out quickly in the first period, taking it to Montreal physically and at the net, outshooting the eighth seed 19-7 after one.  But the score at the end of the frame was tied at one, which Montreal had to take as a confidence boost.
Montreal utilized a power play to open the scoring.  With Nicklas Backstrom in the box for a retaliatory cross-check on Jaroslav Spacek, Caps defenseman Tom Poti failed to make a clear, and seconds later Mike Cammalleri snapped a shot over Theodore's left (blocker) shoulder.
Joe Corvo got the Caps on the board just a few minutes later.  He made a nice play to avoid a Canadien forward, then lofted an easy wrist shot toward the goal that drifted past a screened Jaroslav Halak (45 saves).
After a scoreles second period that was owned by Montreal, the Caps came out in the third and finally looked like they were ready to take control of the game.  Just 47 seconds in, Backstrom made up for his earlier infraction by taking a nifty touch pass from Mike Knuble and slipping past Halak to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.
That lead would last until 7:34, when Scott Gomez banged home a cross-ice pass from Brian Gionta to tied things up, setting up the overtime period, where Montreal would get their last laugh.
Veteran forward Mike Knuble, who was brought in for his playoff experience, said what many in the locker room alluded to.  "We didn’t execute. We need to play better and harder all the way around. We need to bear down a little more right around the net.”

They'll get their chance Saturday night, down one game to none.

In the history of the franchise, the Capitals have won five of nine playoff series in which they have lost Game 1.

With 19 shots in the first period, the Capitals tied a team playoff record (five times) for most shots in a period.
Washington was 0-for-4 on the power play.  Montreal was 1-for-4.

Brooks Laich wore shield instead of cage in a game for first time since injury.

Mike Green starting his playoff mohawk

Another sellout crowd, but with playoff energy

Fans in the spirit of the playoffs
All Photos 2010 © Cheryl Nichols Photography. All Rights Reserved.

In today's game between the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins, neither team had anything to play for in the standings with both teams having secured their playoff seeds.

But there were milestones to chase, and tones to set as the NHL's second season gets started later in the week.

In a tightly contested match, the Boston Bruins eventually would triumph in a shootout and emerge as 4-3 victors in the final game of the season for both teams.

Once regulation expired, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau's feelings about the result of this match could be summed up by the players he sent out in the shootout:  Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley took the first two shots instead of Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.

It was a fun, fiesty game, featuring several Capitals players trying to reach milestones.

Alex Ovechkin entered--and left--the game with 50 goals on the season.  He began the day tied with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the league lead and one goal ahead of Sidney Crosby.  He would not add to the total, so the best he can do is finish tied as the season goal leader.

He also came in--and finished--three points behind Henrik Sedin for the overall scoring leader title.

"Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose, so congrats to Sedin," Ovechkin said. "He deserved it. He played great. We all tried, but some get it, some don't."

"It doesn't take away from the year he had," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He didn't get any points today. Sometimes you just can't dig it up to do it. Boston looked to me like their whole concern was not to let Alex score. So we'll get back to normal. I'm glad the whole race thing is over."

The "other Alex", winger Alexander Semin, did reach a personal milestone, netting his 40th goal of the season for the first time in his career to start the scoring in the first period.  With the goal he reached 300 points in his NHL career.

Another Capital set a team record.  Defenseman Jeff Schultz became the first player in Washington Capitals history to lead the league in plus/minus rating, finishing plus-50 for the season.

Semyon Varalmov made 31 saves on 34 shots.

Jason Chimera had an interesting game as well.  Early in his 500th NHL game, he was bumped into Boston goalie Tim Thomas by a Bruins defenseman.  Thomas overracted and went swinging at Chimera, landing several catching gloves to Chimera's head before the scrum ended the wild swinging.

Thomas recieved four minutes for roughing, while Chimera--incorrectly--got a goalie interference call.

Later, Chimera recieved a 10-minute misconduct for skating in Thomas' general direction.  He must have said something that referee Marc Joannette took offense to, because the action was neither threatening nor menacing.

The Capitals finish the 2009-2010 season with a franchise record of 54-15-13, their first ever President's Trophy for the NHL's best regular season record.

The final day of the regular season also brought excitement in Philadelphia, where the elimination game between the Flyers and the New York Rangers went to a shootout.  The Flyers won the game when Olli Jokinen of the Rangers could not convert with the third shot.

The Rangers loss means the Capitals will face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, starting later this week.  The Caps were 2-1-1 against the Habs this season.


All Photos 2010 © Cheryl Nichols Photography. All Rights Reserved.