WASHINGTON – The Canadiens deserved to leave the District of Columbia with two points on Friday night, but a desperate Washington Capitals squad had other ideas and ultimately came out on top.
Losers of four straight games heading into their second tilt against the Habs in seven days, Adam Oates’ squad overcame a one-goal deficit late in third period at the Verizon Center before besting the Canadiens 3-2 in a shootout. The loss snapped the Habs’ four-game winning streak. Nevertheless, Michel Therrien’s troops remain unbeaten in regulation time in five consecutive tilts, and have racked up nine out of a possible ten points during that span.
“I liked the way that we played. Even in the third period, we didn’t stay back. We tried to make good things happen,” offered Therrien, who watched as Mikhail Grabovski scored the game-tying goal at the 14:28 mark of the final frame to send the game to extra time. “Things like this happen. We deserved to come out of here with two points. We have to re-group and get ready for the game against Toronto.”
Like his head coach, goaltender Peter Budaj insists that the Canadiens were the better team for the majority of the game, setting the tone in the opening period by outshooting the Capitals by a 13-4 margin and heading to the locker room up 1-0 on Daniel Briere’s fifth goal of the season. Despite the fact that Capitals forward Eric Fehr leveled the scoreline at the 5:17 mark of the second period, Tomas Plekanec struck right back, staking the Canadiens to a 2-1 lead just 67 seconds later. Budaj believes the Habs were controlling their opposition handily, but mistakes cost them the extra point.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Washington. We had 37 shots. They had 26. We took it to them,” offered Budaj. “They stuck with it and they got a lucky goal. The first one was a case of mis-communication and it ended up in the net. The other one was a quick shot and it got through me. It’s disappointing.”
Disappointing as the loss might have been, Budaj is adamant that the Canadiens never let up against the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and the bevy of offensive weapons in the Capitals lineup. From his vantage point, the Habs offered up a 60-minute effort against a team that was doing everything possible to get the proverbial monkey off its back after a tough stretch of losses.
“I think we had some good chances [after taking the lead]. We were still playing and trying to force things, trying to work hard and trying to keep them on their heels,” underlined Budaj, who was supported offensively by the line of Briere, Plekanec and Brian Gionta as the trio combined to generate two goals and five points on the night. “We battled hard. They’re a skilled team, and they made the most of their chances.”
Both teams, however, made the most of their respective opportunities in the shootout. Lars Eller and David Desharnais both beat Braden Holtby with highlight-reel markers, but Grabovski broke a 2-2 tie to lift the Capitals to the win. It was the eighth time this season that Washington was involved in a game that was decided in a shootout, and the sixth time that they’d emerged victorious.
“I don’t think that they had an edge because they’ve played in a lot of shootouts,” mentioned Therrien. “We still managed to score two goals. Usually, that puts us in good position to win a shootout. But, you can’t forget that they have a lot of talented players. In situations like that, it’s often the individual efforts that decide things.”
On this night, the Canadiens might have come up short on the scoresheet, but to a man, the effort was certainly there. The focus now is on giving the Maple Leafs all they can handle when they visit the Bell Centre come Saturday night.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.