I imagine outside of the Verizon Center she’s quite nice. Inside, the little old lady who sits across the row from me and screams bloody murder at every play that goes against the Capitals is pound for pound the most intense fan I’ve ever seen. With 38 minutes gone in Saturday night’s classic and Montreal having built a 4-1 lead without having committed a single penalty she had seen enough and decided to beat the crowd. Eight-one minutes later Backstrom capped off a hat trick to give the Caps their first home overtime win since their finals run in 1998 in the fifth postseason game in which a player from each team scored a hatter, though the second in the building in a calender year.
Things looked bleak early as Theodore whiffed on Montreal’s first two shots and Boudreau wisely went to Varlamov eight minutes in to keep the crowd in the game and jolt the bench. Washington’s best defenseman in game one, Carlson, had a giveaway that resulted in a 1-0 deficit a minute in, but both goals were on the soft side. Fehr got one back, but when Andrei Kostitsyn capped off a hat trick at 17:44 in the second, I had the feeling if the Caps can just get one more in the period, they can finish the job in the third. Backstrom got his first of the game, second of the playoffs, less than a minute later to start the snowball rolling, Carlson drew the Caps first power play about a minute after that, Ovechkin knocked in a Carlson rebound about a minute after that power play expired, and then tying it up seemed inevitable.
Thirty-four seconds later Poti gave Scott Gomez a facewash after he taken liberties with Ovechkin. Gomez responded with a small flurry of gloved jabs, Poti dropped his gloves, and Montreal’s best center and arguably Washington’s worst defenseman were off the ice for five minutes. Less than five minutes of game time had passed since it was 4-1. The Habs got their third and final power play less than a minute after that and looked disorganized without Gomez. Backstrom scored his second off a perfect feed from Ovechkin midway through the third, and as the ice felt tilted during the period I thought the Caps needed to win in regulation or lose in overtime based on their recent history. When Capitals killer Tomas Plekanec scored the potential game winner with just over five minutes later, I felt the only way Washington would get to overtime was if Ovechkin, who at that point had a goal and three assists, or Backstrom, who had two goals and an assist, could bail them out. But with a minute and a half left, and Varlamov ready to leave the crease, it was the 20 year old Carlson who drew a penalty, activated on an odd man break, and found the puck on his stick in the slot with the game on the line.
After Carlson converted and the roof came off, I stared at the empty seat to my right and began to write this post in my head. What more can be said about Carlson, who about 100 days ago was winning the Juniors for the U.S.? He made a veteran play in the third when he knocked a puck that had gone high in the air behind Varlamov out of harms way with his right glove and accidentally dislodged the next with his left, the non-call drawing the ire of Habs fans. With Green’s ineffectiveness it’s easy to see Carlson get a huge bump in minutes in game three. He’s clearly been the Caps’ best defenseman in the series, and this is just as clearly becoming a pattern for Green. In his last 18 playoff games he has a goal, eight assists, and is -6, brutal numbers for an offensive Norris finalist. Last year he didn’t look healthy – there was a rumor he had strep throat – but now he just doesn’t look confident.
Backstrom sent everyone home happy 31 seconds into OT. He has firmly established himself this season as one of the league’s top six forwards – along with Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, Henrik Sedin, and Stamkos – and will be compensated as such this offseason, likely in a deal lasting a decade or more. Ovechkin has said they’re best friends, Washington would surely match any offer, and he gets to play on a line with the best player in the world. Though with 14 points in his last six games (7 G, 7 A, +9), Backstrom has been the best player on the Caps the last two weeks.
Both teams go into game three unsettled at goalie. I’m going to predict Washington goes back to Theodore. My rationale is A) he played better in game one than Varlamov played in game two and B) it would be easier to go to Varlamov in relief in Montreal than Theodore. I could also easily see Varlamov based on their histories in Montreal: Varlamov is 2-0-0 with a 1.94 GAA and a .930 save percentage while Theodore is 0-1-1 with a 7.42 GAA and a .803 save percentage. In Montreal there are questions about Halak, who Ovechkin thought looked nervous in the first period. Carey Price had some success against the Caps in the regular season. I predict Washington wins the next two at the Bell Centre though I admit I’m a little less confident about game five.
About the Author
Written by Ryan Cleaver
Ryan Cleaver was born in Björk’s house in Iceland and grew up on Easter Island, where his parents were giant stone heads. He has the ability to fire beams of tacos out of his hands and he can turn his legs into tigers. On Sundays, Ryan enjoys reading Family Circus and traveling through time. His favorite color is greenish-transparent and his favorite movie is the one you just watched.