Despite what, at times, seemed to be their best efforts to the contrary, the Capitals managed to beat the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night, winning 3-2 in a shootout, and, more importantly, securing control over the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Caps got some help in the standings as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Buffalo Sabres earlier in the evening, solidifying their grasp on the playoffs with three games left to play this season, even as the Caps seemed determined to waste an early lead.
The Capitals rode a surge of early momentum from the return of star center Nicklas Backstrom to an early two goal lead. The Verizon Center was louder than it had been in months, with the sellout crowd throatily voicing their appreciation for the return of the injured Swede beginning when he took the ice for warmups.
Like many of the other recent games, though, it was like there were two different Caps teams playing. As Japers Rink noted in their recap, the Caps have blown 3, 2, and 2 goal leads in the last five games. Early in the game the Caps played well, but after goals by Perreault and Beagle, the team seemed content to sit on its heels and try to protect the lead.
Just 4 minutes into the game, a patient Alex Semin took a rebound off Montreal goalie Peter Budaj and fired a perfect pass to Mathieu Perreault charging in from the wing. Perreault flipped the puck past Budaj before he had a chance to react. The second goal was scored similarly, with Jay Beagle going to the net to stuff a Matt Hendricks pass into a yawning chasm of a net.
In the shootout, Matt Hendricks employed his patented move to claim yet another victim, and Alex Semin put the nail in the coffin to ensure the win for the home team.
For all the talk of the last several games being playoff-like, this was the first one where the atmosphere and game play actually matched the pre-game hype. The two teams were in each others faces, with several post-whistle scrums and extracurricular activities throughout the game. In a lighter moment, Matt Hendricks attempted to fight P.K. Subban, but the later ignored the request and skated away. On Frozen Blog got Hendricks to explain the situation after the game.
The Capitals’ next game is Monday at 7pm against the Tampa Bay Lightning.