No Ovechkin? Big problem.
The Montreal Canadiens stole Game 1 from the Washington Capitals in overtime Thursday night at the Verizon Center. Not only did they stun the sold-out crowd with a 3-2 OT win, but they also managed to shut down the Great 8 the entire game. Not only did Alex Ovechkin not score. He didn't even get a shot on net.
Tomas Plekanec scored the game winner with about six minutes left in the first overtime. He picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, used his speed to generate space as he skated over the blue line and fired a quick slapper past Jose Theodore to send those rockin' the red home in disgust.
Montreal also found a way to stop Alex Ovechkin. How do you keep him from scoring? Don't let him shoot. Ovechkin failed to register a single shot on goal in regulation or overtime. The reason: the Habs' defense -- especially the duo of Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik -- were able to keep Ovechkin at bay with tight defensive coverage.
Any time Ovechkin got the puck, Spacek and Hamrlik made sure they got their sticks, shins and every other body part they could between Ovie and the goal.
"I just didn't think he was very good tonight," coach Bruce Boudreau said of his team captain after the game. "Our best players weren't our best players tonight."
With Spacek and Hamrlik eliminating Ovechkin, goalie Jaroslav Halak could focus on stopping the rest of the Caps' potent attack.
Halak stopped 45 shots overall in the game, including 18 in the first period. Montreal withstood an early barrage by the Caps in front of a rambunctious crowd at the Phone Booth and even took a first-period lead.
Mike Cammalleri scored the first goal of the game on the power play. Joe Corvo tied it later in the first with a seeing-eye shot from the point that found its way past two teammates and a Montreal defender, off Halak and into the net.
After a scoreless second period, Nicklas Backstrom put the Caps ahead just 47 seconds into the third. A shot by John Carlson from the point bounced off of Habs' d-man Hal Gill. Before the slow, lanky defenseman could recover and clear, Mike Knuble scooped it up and made a quick dish to Backstrom. The shifty center snapped a quick shot past Halak before he could react.
In the regular season, a goal like that would have created an avalanche of goals for the Caps. But that didn't happen in this first game of the postseason. Montreal kept its composure and eventually tied things up about seven minutes later.
Scott Gomez scored on a pretty passing play. He first made a nifty move with the puck in the neutral zone to gain the Washington zone, and then moved the puck to teammate Benoit Pouliot. Pouliot fed Brian Gionta, who spotted Gomez skating hard to the net. Gionta threaded a crisp pass past Mike Green's stick to Gomez, who needed only to tap the puck into an open net.
The quickness displayed on that play was the story of the night for Montreal. While the Caps have the size advantage in this series, the Habs showed off their skating prowess, often beating the Caps to loose pucks and getting back quickly to their own end to establish defensive positioning.
Is it time for Caps fans to panic? Not at all. Montreal played about as good a game as they could in Game 1. It's still early, and the Caps should be able to make some adjustments to free up Ovechkin and Semin and get things back on track.
The Caps have the firepower. It's just a question of putting it all together. Washington hopes the pieces to the puzzle start fitting in Game 2 Saturday night.