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Recap: Caps 5, Canadiens 1

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[AP Recap - GameCenter - Game Summary - Event Summary]

As proud as we often are of Verizon Center, the toughest place to play in the NHL continues to be Bell Centre in Montreal. Coming off a somewhat uneven win and a 1-1 split back at home, the task was a daunting one for the Capitals - go into this extremely tough building and attempt to steal back home ice advantage. It was to be the first of what we hope will be many tests of just how good a team they really are.

They passed with flying colors.

After weathering the initial storm that accompanies playoff mania in Montreal, the Caps came out flying in the second period and dominated from that point on, allowing the Canadiens only momentary glimpses at offensive pressure en route to the first lopsided game of the postseason.

Ten more thoughts on tonight's game:

  • The Bell Centre holds roughly 3,000 more people than Verizon Center, but when the capacity crowd gets going it can sound like there are 100,000 people contained within its walls. Tonight was no exception, and it was somewhat understandable that the Caps came out looking a little bewildered in the opening frame as a result. They were outshot 10-7 and relied on Semyon Varlamov to bail them out of a few tough spots early before settling in.
  • If you only knew the score from tonight's game, would your assumption be that the scoring started with a Boyd Gordon shorthanded tally and ended with a Matt Bradley goal? No? Weird.
  • It's nice of the Caps to at least add some shorthanded goals to their repertoire - especially if they're going to insist on giving up a power play goal every game. Meanwhile the Caps' once dominant power play continued to sputter despite getting chance after chance, going an amazing 0-for-7 (with only five shots total). Not good.
  • Varlamov might not have been my first choice to start this game, but he certainly rose to the occasion early and made the big saves, the little saves and everything in between whenever he was called on to do so. Stopping 26 of 27 shots in a building like that? Varly's back, kids.
  • Earlier today, Mike Green assured the media and his fans that he'd be better, saying "Watch me tonight. That's all I have to say." We watched, and indeed both Green and Jeff Schultz showed a marked improvement over the first two games. +2 for each, 3 blocked shots for Schultz and an assist for Green - it's getting there, boys.
  • Once Alex Ovechkin put the Caps up by 4, the Canadiens seemed to unravel before our very eyes, taking undisciplined penalty after undisciplined penalty. And it wasn't the scrappy, gritty guys doing it - it was Montreal's big guns, with Gionta, Gomez and Plekanec all doing time, as the frustration from the seemingly endless Caps' onslaught seemed to wear down the Habs. Even if the power play didn't cash in, getting those guys off for two, four or ten minutes at a time is always a plus.
  • Three games in and we've now seen all four goalies. Why, that's almost, sort of, kind of, entirely...not shocking in the least.
  • Tomas Fleischmann: 15:14 TOI, 21 shifts, a little over 4 minutes of power play time, no goals, no assists, one penalty. Eric Fehr: 9:21 TOI, 13 shifts, a little over 1 minute of power play time, one goal, one assist. And the mystery continues...
  • Of course Tomas Plekanec scored the lone Montreal goal. Of course he did. On the flip side, however, he was also on the ice for four of the Caps' five goals and finished the evening a shimmering -4. Way to go,, Plekanec.
  • The top line was relatively quiet tonight, with just a point apiece and five of Ovechkin's six shot attempts being blocked (although the one that got through went all the way to the back of the net). They contributed, though, and what's even better is the fact that the other three lines did, as well - all with that net presence that's been largely missing to this point. Oh, and welcome to the series, Brooks Laich.
There are things to improve on from this game, including having a stronger start and getting the power play back to its lethal effectiveness. Alexander Semin also continues to be noticeably absent from the scoresheet, something the Caps will want to remedy sooner rather than later.

All in all, though, this was exactly the kind of game Caps - and Caps fans - needed to see after two games that were much too close for comfort. The goaltending was strong, the offense diverse and powerful, the defense generally sound. They were disciplined when it matters, with Jason Chimera deserving special recognition for backing down from ill-advised fights not once but twice, and the PK was not only aggressive but productive.

It was a full team game, a game that was inching closer to the 60-minute effort we're always yammering on about. And most importantly it gives the Caps their first series lead of the playoffs - now we see what they can do with it.

Win one game. Do it sixteen fourteen times.

Game highlights: