Continuing to make a late-season push for the Southeast Division title, the Capitals have not let the lack of home-ice advantage get in their way. A major test was passed with flying colors Tuesday in Montreal, as Washington downed the team that entered the game with the fewest regulation losses in the Eastern Conference, 3-2. The Caps are 7-0-1 in their last eight games away from D.C.
These two squads had not seen each other since late January when the Canadiens topped the Caps at Verizon Center. On that night a four-goal second period for the visitors proved to be the difference. The middle period would help to turn the tide for the Capitals on this night.
Washington came out of the locker room hell-bent on scoring first and getting off to a great start. Trouble was someone forgot to tell Canadiens goalie Carey Price. Price made three fine stops in the first three minutes to keep it scoreless, the best of which may have been a full-split kick-out of a Nicklas Backstrom backhander from the top of the crease.
Michal Neuvirth was no slouch at his end of the rink, making his second straight start in goal for Head Coach Adam Oates. The 25-year old Czech would finish the night with 27 saves.
Montreal Head Coach Michel Therrien had to be pleased with effort of the line made up of Brandon Prust, Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk. Throughout the game they were a threat to score and it would be that trio that struck pay-dirt first.
The 19-year old Galchenyuk made a slick stickhandling move to bring the puck off the boards to the middle of the Caps defense. Prust had his intital attempt go wide, but he stayed with and centered the puck perfectly for Eller who roofed the opening score at 15:44 of the opening period.
The Capitals opened the scoring summary in the second frame with Alex Ovechkin adding to his highlight reel of the last month. A beautiful move around Michael Ryder (one that Alex himself might call “sick”) led to a snap shot that beat Price to the glove side. It was the league-leading 26th goal for #8 and it gives him goals in 11 of his last 13 outings.
Less than two minutes later the Caps would grab a lead they would never relinquish. A point drive from Jack Hillen was tipped by Eric Fehr, bounced up off of the blocker of Price high in the air, over his head, and caromed into the goal off the goalie’s leg pad. Video review was required to confirm that neither Fehr nor Jason Chimera had struck the puck with a high-stick above the height of the crossbar. It was ruled a good goal for Fehr (originally credited to Hillen) at 9:36 of period two.
The Caps defenseman would get a goal for himself in the third period and it proved to be the deciding tally. With a heavy screen in front of Price, Hillen laced a drive from near the blue-line that sailed past the Canadiens goalie who never could track the flight of the puck.
The crowd inside Bell Centre was angered by what they felt were missed calls by the referees on possible penalties against the Caps. These two teams have produced the most power-play goals in the NHL this season, but each was only awarded one power-play for the entire game.
Montreal made it tough on the Capitals with only 3:22 left in regulation time. Young defender Nathan Beaulieu looked off a Washington defender with a fake pass, then rifled a shot from the left-point that was deflected home by Eller standing 10 feet in front of Neuvirth.
Bell Center faithful were going bonkers, but that would be the last of their celebration.
Neuvirth made one final save at the goal post near the final horn to secure the 3-2 victory.
Winnipeg was victorious over Buffalo Thursday to remain two points behind Washington in the division race.
The Caps return home to face Carolina on Thursday. That game can be seen on Comcast SportsNet. Caps Central begins our coverage at 6:30 p.m.