It was one of the more dominating performances the Caps have delivered all season and it came at a great time. Washington has made Bell Centre in Montreal one of its favorite NHL playgrounds. On Saturday night, the visitors quieted the sell-out crowd right off the bat and never looked back en-route to a 5-1 victory.
Already knowing that Winnipeg had pulled to within one point of them for the Southeast Division lead with a shootout loss in the afternoon, the Capitals went to work with a purpose and it showed. The first period was a case study in how to frustrate an opponent into mistakes.
The first goal of the game came through a Montreal miscue. P.K. Subban’s clearing attempt struck Nicklas Backstrom and was picked up by Alex Ovechkin. The leading goal-scorer in the NHL worked to the outside of a defender and, like a pure point-guard might do on a basketball court, looked-away Carey Price before zipping a shot between the goalie’s skates.
After that, it took only 68 seconds for the Caps to get on the score-sheet again. Karl Alzner moved the puck down the boards in the offensive zone to Troy Brouwer. The Caps second-leading goal-scorer curled to the top of the circle before unleashing a shot that went past Price, who had Mike Ribeiro annoying him near the crease.
Braden Holtby made nine stops in the first period, on the way to 35 for the game and his 21st win of the campaign.
Brouwer would give him a three-goal lead to protect at the 3:49 mark of the second period. Set up in the slot area by Marcus Johansson, Brouwer put another snapshot by the blocker of Price, who has been fighting the puck lately and did again on this night.
Next, it was time for the Caps power-play group to get in the act. Picture-perfect puck movement from Mike Green to Ovechkin to Backstrom on the doorstep, left the Swede with a close-range tap-in that needed video review to confirm.
The Caps rolled into the final frame with a 4-0 advantage and with their penalty-killers pulling double duty. Montreal had the game’s first four man-advantages and did nothing with them.
In period number three, the Capitals would finish off their scoring spree with another power-play strike from Ovechkin. This time it was an exquisite touch-pass from Green to Ovechkin that led to a one-time blast that broke through Price and into the goal. The captain’s two tallies run his league-best total to 30 in this abbreviated year.
The only issue left in doubt would be if Holtby could record another shutout. Unfortunately, the Canadiens would not be so kind as to cooperate.
Tomas Plekanec got away with knocking the stick out of the hands of defender Jack Hillen before he made a pretty pass to an open Max Pacioretty. The sharp-shooting winger had a wide-open cage staring back at him as he slid home his 13th goal of the year with only 5:09 left in the third period.
The final horn was met by half-empty stands inside Bell Centre, the home team’s fans had seen enough long before time had run out.
The win brings the Caps magic number to clinch the Southeast Division to four. Any combination of four points earned by Washington or lost by Winnipeg would seal the deal. Winnipeg visits Buffalo on Monday and then heads for our nation’s capital for a huge Tuesday night showdown with Washington.
Coverage of that game begins with Caps Central on Comcast SportsNet at 6:30 p.m.