WASHINGTON -- Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau was not happy.  In fact, quite the opposite.

He took the podium for the post-game press conference, and from the get-go you could tell it was not going to be long, pleasant or pretty.

Asked if he thought his team let one get away, he responded curtly, “Of course … What do you think? We have Game Five in our building, and we play like crap the first 10 minutes and the game is over.”

It was a brutal, but honest assessment.

The Caps got down quickly, 2-0, and unlike other games this series, never caught up, losing Game Five of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series with the Montreal Canadiens 2-1, before a sold out, but disappointed, Verizon Center.

Washington simply didn't put out enough effort, skill or detemination to hold back a desperate Montreal squad.

"We're not getting 20 guys playing. We are getting 13 and 14 guys every night rather than everyone coming to play.”

"Tonight was had five or six passengers again."

It's a fairly damning statement that your head coach is willing to appear on a nationally televised press conference and essentially call out a third of the team for not showing up.

Again, brutal but true.

It would be very easy to speculate on which players Boudreau was referencing with those comments.  But his words carry more weight than mine.

Asked if he would contemplate a roster change, considering the five-man taxi squad the team has carried thus far in the playoffs, Boudreau replied, "We'll think very deeply about it the next two days."

Boudreau's criticism of enigmatic winger Alexander Semin was blunt. "How many goals and assists did he get?"  The answer:  zero.  "If we don’t get him scoring, then it is too easy to check certain guys. He just has to come through.”

"That's 12 games in row now in the playoffs he hasn't got one."

Not that anyone is counting.

For the second game, the team took a too many men penalty at a critical juncture, this time as the team tried to get Semyon Varlamov off the ice for an extra attacker at the end of the game.  It just speaks to the lack of attention to details that could end up crippling this team.

So far against Montreal, the Capitals have been able to 'turn it on' for a period, despite some lackluster play at times, and salvage three wins, poised to move on to a second round match-up with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Friday night, however, the Caps couldn't find the switch.

They got one goal from their captain, another crease-crasher, but there were no typical long-range bombs, no wicked wrist shots, no one-timers on the power play.

Extra-man play in Game Five was especially disappointing.  Washington was 0-for-5 on the power play, extending a brutal streak for the team, which is now one for its last 24 in this series.

There's just no guidance at all on the power play, no cohesion, no urgency.

Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak should be given some credit for the victory.  He made saves on 37 of the 38 shots he faced.  But a large majority of the shots he was were from an easy range.  Except for a brief flurry in the second period, there were not too many close-in attempts from the Capitals.

The Caps still hold a 3-2 lead in the series, and took both games in Montreal earlier in the week.  But what once was an enviable position has now turned into a dangerous proposition.

The Canadiens can only be empowered by what happened in Game Five, and momentum is a dangerous thing.

CAPS NOTES:  The Capitals are now 2-7 in Game 5s when leading the series 3-1.

The Capitals were a perfect six-for-six on the penalty kill, the first time his series they have held Montreal without a goal on the power play.

Semyon Varlamov made 26 saves and fell to 10-7 in 17 career playoff games. Varlamov has allowed two goals or less in seven out of 17 games in his playoff career.

Caps Try to Close Out Montreal

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, April 23, 2010 | , , , | 2 comments »

The Washington Capitals return to Verizon Center tonight with the hopes of closing out their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup with the Montreal Canadiens tonight at 7:00 pm. 

By virtue of a short-handed goal late in the second period in Game Four and a furious four-goal third period, the Caps hold a three games to one lead over the eighth seeded Canadiens.

This franchise has had some noted failures in series with big leads before, but that type of history lesson should be of no concern to this team. 

This generation of Washington Capitals are built differently: the best player on the planet, a dynamic play-maker at his side, the enigmatic sniper, a Norris Trophy candidate, and an emerging stud defenseman with the nickname 'Captain America'.

The Canadiens looked ovewhelmed the other night.  Carrying a 2-1 lead late into the second period and on a power play, the building was ready to erupt at the horn with the idea of Les Habitent equaling the series. 

But beat-up Boyd Gordon and grizzled vet Mike Knuble--added to this team for this time of year specifically--combined for the short-handed goal that crushed the spirit of everyone associated with Le Blue, Blanc,et Rouge.  That the Caps then dominated the third period came as no surprise.

This team can turn things on almost at will, and it's a shame that they don't play that way for three periods every night, because then we could actually witness something historic.  For the last 20 games or so, they've been playing one period of terrific hockey per game, and it's been enough to carry the day on most occasions.

But I'm not complaining.  They have also shown that they will turn their game up for quality competition (4-0 against Pittsburgh this season, anyone?).

They are even getting help from outside forces.  The crippled Philadelphia Flyers managed to defeat disappointing New Jersey 3-0 last night, ensuring the Caps--should they advance--will face a team missing most of their leading scorers due to injury and a goaltender that would have a hard time making the roster in Hershey.

On top of that, Ottawa extended their series with the Penguins, beating the Pens in three overtimes last night, essentially forcing either team to play eight games in a seven game series. 

The little things mean a lot in the playoffs.

Back to matters at hand.

Montreal will turn back to Jaroslav Halak in goal, after Carey Price was victimized--then lost his marbles--in Game Four.  It's an unenviable task for the young goalie, having to come into Verizon Center down three games to one with the hopes of an entire province pinned squarely on his shoulders.

Good luck with that, kid.

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.

The Washington Capitals had to scramble a little bit in the first period of Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the raucus Bell Centre against the Montreal Canadiens.

Montreal outshot the Caps 10-7, with Semyon Varlamov making several outstanding saves early to keep his team in it.

The Caps weathered the early storm, came out and took control with four second period goals, and eventually cruised to a 5-1 victory, sending the Montreal fans home unhappy.

Coach Bruce Boudreau turned to Varlamov to start this game in place of Jose Theodore, who was lifted in Game Two after allowing goals on the first two shots he saw.  It was a risky call, sending a young goalie into probably the most hostile atmosphere for a road team in the league.

But Varlamov proved up to the task, making 26 saves and leading his squad through a rough first period, where the Canadiens really took the play to the President's Trophy winners.

Varlamov is now 3-0-0 with a 1.63 goals against average and a .940 save percentage at Bell Centre in his career.  Maybe poutine agrees with him.

The second period told a different story.

Boyd Gordon, who did not dress for Game Two, sparked the team, scoring a short-handed goal just 1:06 into the frame.  He and Mike Knuble broke in and had a couple stuff attempts on Jaroslav Halak, and Gordon eventually was able to get it past.

Brooks Laich tallied a few minutes later, taking a pass from Mike Green at the top of the RW circle, turning and snapping a quick shot through traffic for the 2-0 lead, taking some of the starch out of the Canadiens.

Eric Fehr would add to the tally, bouncing a shot off Halak, getting his own rebound and flicking it over Halak's catcing glove.  Fehr's second goal of the playoffs sent Halak to the bench.

Montreal coach Pierre Gauthier summoned Carey Price to stop the bleeding, but Price didn't have much more success than Halak.

Captials captain Alex Ovechkin scored the fourth goal of the frame, banging home a feed from his running mate Nicklas Backstrom.

Matt Bradley finished the scoring, jamming home a bouncing puck with less than a minute remaining for the clincher.

The Caps have an uncanny ability to score in bunches, and that was certainly in evidence in the second period.  They feed off each other, and they took control of a tight game with a destructive blitz against a team that confounded them in Game One of this series.

What's even better, is that in this game, it was mostly secondary scoring that did most of the damage.  Eric Fehr is stepping up in this series in a big way.  Brooks Laich got on the scoresheet for the first time in the series.  Fourth liners Gordon and Bradley chipped in.

And it was important that Mike Green finally registered a point, and he and his pairing Jeff Schultz played much better than they did in Game Two.  They both finished +2, and Schultz blocked three shots.

It was a much-needed performance by a team that might have been a little shaken the way Montreal came into Verizon Center in Games One and Two and gave the Caps all they could handle.

The Caps responded in Game Three, showing that they were not going to be intimidated, either by the crowd, the building, or the Canadiens themselves.

Game Four is Wednesday night.

Jose or Not Jose? That is the Question

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, April 19, 2010 | , , | 3 comments »

(ed.--two mintes after posting this article Damien Cox reported Semyon Varlamov would be the starter for the Cpas tonight)

Sometime very soon we will know who is starting in goal for the Washington Capitals tonight in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Centre Bell in Montreal this evening.
At least we'll know by 7:00 pm.

It's well documented that Theodore did not start any of the four games the Caps against Les Habitents in the regular season.  And it's widely suspected that should Theodore get the nod, he'll be subjected to loud, constant chants of "Tey-O" by the Centre Bell faithful.

But he should get the start.

Folks have been debating since he was pulled about who should get the nod for Game Three.  I've got three reasons they should stick with Theodore.

1)  Though the first goal was soft, the second was legit.  Boudreau had to pull him more for momentum than anything else.

2)  He was good in Game One.

3)  If you change now, you remove the option of changing later.

Boudreau said the other day he plans on playing both goalies during the playoffs.  But this is more about confidence in the veteran that has carried you all season.  It's true Boudreau abandoned Theodore in last year's playoffs, but he played much better this season than he did late last season.

And again, he played well in Game One.

This team has won all season with Theodore as the main goalie.  Boudreau should stick with him here.

Now, about getting Green and Schultz to stand someone up at the blue line...

Not quite eight minutes into Game Two of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup with the Montreal Canadiens, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals found themselves two goals down in their own barn.

After dropping Game One 3-2, it was not how the Caps wanted to get out of the gate.

Throughout the game, they found themselves down 3-1, 4-2 and 5-4 to an opportunistic Canadiens attack.
It mattered not.

Nicklas Backstrom scored 31 seconds into overtime for a 6-5 Caps win, sending the series to Montreal tied at two.

The overtime winner completed a hat trick for the 22-year old Swede, his first of this season and his first career playoff hat trick.

It was a fairly non-descript wrist shot that just seemed to fool Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak.

"[I was] a little bit [surprised it went in], but if you are going to score, you have to shoot, right? I was trying to get it on the net and I was lucky it went in."

Backstrom also assisted on the goal that sent the game into overtime, a John Carlson blast that sailed just under the glove of Halak (31 saves on 37 shots).

The play started in the defensive end, as Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (one goal, three assists) started a breakout, but was slashed by Montreal forward Michael Cammilleri, triggering a broken stick and delayed penalty call.

The puck ended up on Backstrom's stick, and he carried through the neutral zone.  Carlson joined the rush and Backstrom dropped the puck near the blueline for the streaking defenseman.  Carlson collected and utilized the Montreal defenseman and Backstrom as confusion and screen for the shot, which tied the game with 1:21 remaining in regulation.

"There's just something about him.  I mean, glory follows him" Coach Bruce Boudreau said about his 20-year old defenseman.  "Some guys get that.  I've said it before, they come up in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and they're the ones that do the damage.  I think John Carlson in his career is going to be like that."

This game did not start out happy for the Caps, though, and the ramifications could linger throughout their playoff run.

Starting goalie Jose Theodore allowed goals on his first two shots faced.  And though they were both tough attempts, Coach Bruce Boudreau needed to change the momentum and went to backup Semyon Varlamov.

The first was a long shot from Brian Gionta that Boudreau called a "knuckleball", and on the second Mike Green and Jeff Schultz kept retreating, which allowed Andrei Kostitsyn to walk into the slot and beat Theodore glove-side.

Not quite eight minutes in, the Caps were down 2-0 and pulling a goalie that had not lost in regulation in three months.  Things looked bleak.

Eric Fehr halfed the lead a but later, as he took a long breakout pass from Tomas Fleischmann and beat Halak with a quick wrist shot on a breakaway.  The first period ended at 2-1 Habs, and all things considered, things didn't look too bad.

But Montreal scored the next two goals (both by Kostitsyn, completing his own hat trick) to take a 4-1 lead with just 2:16 to go in the second period. Again, bleak.

But that's when the Caps' stars, Backstrom and Ovechkin, went to work.

Less than a minute later, Backstrom collected a rebound from a Joe Corvo shot and unleashed a slap shot from a tight angle that somehow managed to get through a Mike Knuble screen and past Halak.

Ovechkin drew the team to within one less than three minutes into the third period.  Carlson kept a clearing attempt in the zone and fired toward the Montreal goal.  The puck deflected off Matt Bradley and onto Halak, but the goalie could not handle the puck cleanly. 

Ovechkin jammed his stick between Halak's pads and rammed the puck home for The Great 8's first goal of these playoffs.

The first tying goal came at the 9:47 mark, with Backstrom knocking in a cross-crease pass from Ovechkin from the corner.

But the celebration would be short-lived, as Tomas Plekanec would surface again.  Mike Green tried to clear the puck from his own end, but put the puck right on Plekanec's stick.  He fed Michael Cammelleri, who either shot or passed back to Plekanec, who tipped it behind Varlamov to regain the lead, 5-4 with just over five minutes remaining.

CAPS NOTES:  The Capitals are now 16-22 all time in playoff overtime games, and won their first playoff overtime game at home since a 3-2 OT win against Buffalo on May 25, 1998, ending a five-game losing streak in home overtimes.

Alex Ovechkin added three assists and now has 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 25 career playoff games. With four points in the contest, Ovechkin established a playoff career high.

Ovechkin finished the game with eight hits, two shy of his regular-season single-game high.

Semyon Varlamov, who started 13 of 14 games in last year's postseason, made 22 saves on 25 shots to pick up his eighth career postseason victory in 14 games. Varlamov has three wins in three games played against Montreal in the regular season and postseason combined.