Boudreau, Caps show all right moves
MONTREAL -- Who could blame Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau if he wandered back to his hotel room in Montreal late Monday night, lit up a big stogie, put his feet up on a big cushion and said, "It's good to be Midas."
He wouldn't do it, of course. In fact, he's already worrying about Game 4 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinals series that the Capitals now lead 2-1. But after everything he touched turned to gold in Game 3 -- a shockingly easy 5-1 victory -- he could do just that.
After Boudreau made the gutsy call early in Game 2 to yank starting netminder Jose Theodore, his Capitals responded with a 6-5 overtime win.
Preparing for Monday's Game 3, which promised to be a series changer whichever way the chips fell, Boudreau reinserted forward Boyd Gordon into the lineup after taking him out for Game 2. All Gordon did was score the game's crucial first goal while the Caps were short-handed to give his team a 1-0 lead early in the second period. Later, both teams would cite the goal as a turning point in the game.
Boudreau also tinkered with his line combinations and got goals from five players.
Perhaps more significant, the Caps coach opted to stay with youngster Semyon Varlamov in net for Game 3 and was rewarded with a sparkling 26-save performance in a win that signals the beginning of the inevitable end for the Montreal Canadiens and serves notice that the powerful Capitals are back.
At this rate, Boudreau might be able to come up with winning lottery numbers and turn some straw into gold even though he insists there will be no swaggering about by his team.
"No, just worried like crazy today, and I will worry tomorrow about the next game," Boudreau said. "I think, like any team that's in the playoffs, we're confident that you're a good team but we're also confident that we're playing a really good team. There's no reason for us to have swagger. We've won two games; you've got to win four. Then, you've got to win 12 more after that, so there's a lot of room for concern."
As much as the first part of this NHL postseason has been about parity -- all eight series were tied at 1 at some point -- water seeks its own level, especially with a team as talented as the Capitals.
After Monday, can you say tsunami?
"That's the type of efforts we need to win," Capitals defenseman Mike Green told Washington-based reporter Corey Masisak. "When everyone plays like that -- they don't have much out there. Really, they don't."
Perhaps the fact the first two games went to overtime distorted the reality of where both teams were at. Boudreau bristled Monday morning when he was asked, and not for the first time this spring, whether he needed to remind his team to play better defensively.
"We answer that question every day," he muttered.
He won't have to answer it Tuesday.
"I'm hoping. I thought they were pretty solid tonight," Boudreau said. "In the second period, I thought we really did a great job in the neutral zone and created turnovers."
The Caps were victimized by poor decisions in Game 2, and the Canadiens made them pay almost every time with goals. On Monday, there were few breakdowns. Players blocked passes. They killed off four of five Montreal power plays. They stayed out of the box even when the Habs started to lose their mind a little bit after the Caps buried them with four second-period goals.
Although Alex Ovechkin did score his second goal of the playoffs to give the Capitals a 4-0 lead, the Caps also received strong performances from foot soldiers such as Gordon, Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich, all of whom scored in the second period. Matt Bradley added the fifth Washington marker with 45 seconds left in the game.
When there were defensive breakdowns, Varlamov was solid. On an early Washington power play, the Canadiens had two good short-handed scoring chances but Varlamov made the saves. Moments after Gordon scored to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 1:06 into the second period, Varlamov again stoned Brian Gionta on a dangerous chance. In the third period after Tomas Plekanec scored to make it 4-1, Varlamov calmly kicked out a hard Roman Hamrlik point shot on another power play to help maintain the Caps' three-goal lead.
"Varlamov was great for us," Fehr said. "He loves these kinds of situations. He's a big-game player for us. He did a great job."
If Game 3 revealed the Washington Capitals squad most had expected to be on display earlier in the proceedings, the same could be said of the Canadiens. Despite all the bravado about putting Game 2 behind them when they played themselves out of a 2-0 series lead by coughing up a 4-1 and 5-4 leads, the Canadiens seemed incapable of taking advantage of the emotional support of their rabid hometown fans.
They stutter-stepped through the first half of the first period, making life easy for a Washington team that likely had to weather the storm and hope to stay close through the opening frame.
"I thought our goal tonight was to come out even in the first period. We knew the crowd, and it was loud and it was crazy, crazy good," Boudreau said. "It was energetic, and there was a tremendous buzz. But our goal [was], if we could just get out of the first, and we did, so we felt good about ourselves going into the second."
In the time between Games 2 and 3, Montreal coach Jacques Martin had calmly insisted that he liked netminder Jaroslav Halak's play even though Halak had allowed five goals on the last 17 shots he faced in Game 2. That faith proved wildly misplaced. After a scoreless first period, Halak (or "The Shakester" as he might be known after Ovechkin's pregame assessment of the nervous netminder) gave up three goals on four shots in the second and was lifted at the 8:30 mark in favor of Carey Price.
By the end of the second period, the same fans who began the game with a taunting "Theo, Theo, Theo" call for former Canadiens favored son Theodore were derisively chanting "Jaro, Jaro, Jaro."
As was the case in Game 2, if you looked at the Washington goals, you could rationalize how each went in and where there were breakdowns that led to each tally.
Yet one of the basic truths of this series was that Montreal's goaltending had to be demonstrably better than the Capitals' if the Canadiens were going to have even a remote chance of knocking out the NHL's best regular-season team.
It was so in Game 1, when the Canadiens prevailed in a 3-2 overtime win. It has not been so since, and now Martin will have to go to Price in Game 4, even though he played in just two of the Habs' last 15 regular-season games. In his young career, Price has amassed a 5-10 postseason record with a 3.11 goals-against average and .895 save percentage.
In the end, you can always say that one game does not beget the next. That was the Habs' mantra between Games 2 and 3, but it didn't make it so. The failures of Game 2 bled directly into an inability to take advantage of home ice in Game 3. They also can say what they like about putting Game 3 behind them, but it does not necessarily make it so.
We would be shocked if Game 4 does not look very much like the one that preceded it, and so on, until this series comes to what now appears an inevitable conclusion.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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