Canadiens complete stunning upset of Caps
WASHINGTON — This would be the unimaginable ending, if not for the Washington Capitals and their history of Game 7s accompanied by the agony of disastrous defeats.
Montreal was not supposed to have a chance in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal, not after falling behind, 3-1, in the series against a team that scored more goals and won more games than any team in the NHL and was considered the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
Someone forgot to tell that to the Canadiens.
Montreal made history Wednesday night, pulling the biggest upset of the playoffs and adding to the Capitals' Game 7 misery with a 2-1 victory in the deciding game of their first-round series at Verizon Center.
"To come back from 3-1 down, it shows a lot of character," said Montreal center Dominic Moore, who scored the winning goal with 3:36 remaining in the third period. "We tried to stay in the moment and not get ahead of ourselves and just compete for every inch."
It marked the first time a No. 8 seed overcame a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the top seed since the NHL adopted its current playoff format in 1994. Washington led the NHL with 121 points in the regular season — 33 more than Montreal — and was considered the league's most dangerous team.
Afterward, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said he would have bet his house that the Canadiens wouldn't have won three consecutive games and held the Capitals to three goals in the final three games of the series.
"This is a tough lesson to learn because you thought after last year that you were going to win the Cup," Boudreau said. "Not that we took anybody for granted at all, but the importance of winning in the first round, it's a tough round to win and maybe we'll be smarter for it next year."
Instead, the Canadiens advance to play the defending champion Penguins in the conference semifinals. Game 1 is at 7 p.m. Friday at Mellon Arena.
Montreal can thank a pair of former Penguins for their roles in the stunning upset. Defenseman Hal Gill, who won the Cup last year before leaving via free agency, had six of his series-best 31 blocked shots. Moore, who played for the Penguins in 2006-07, scored his first career playoff game-winner.
It was the fourth consecutive playoff series extended to a Game 7 for the Capitals, who are 2-7 all-time in Game 7s — 2-6 on home ice — and had blown six two-game leads in the playoffs over the past quarter-century.
Even so, they never imagined this.
"When you have a 3-1 lead in a series, you think there's no way you are going to drop three straight, especially two of those games at home," Capitals right wing Mike Knuble said. "It's the most disappointing for a team that is known for our goal scoring. The amount of offense that we can provide, to come up short and not get the goals in a timely manner when we have done it all year, it's extremely disappointing for us."
Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak was brilliant again, stopping 41 of 42 shots after making 53 saves in Game 6. He turned away 131 of the 134 shots he faced in the final three games. Most importantly, Halak held Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin without a goal for the third time in the series.
Marc-Andre Bergeron scored a 4-on-3 power-play goal for a 1-0 lead with 30 seconds left in the first period, and the Capitals couldn't answer. They went 0 for 3 on the power play to finish 1 for 33 for the series.
Ovechkin appeared to tie it only 24 seconds into the third on a floater from the left circle, but the goal was immediately disallowed when Knuble drew a "man-in-the-crease" call. The Canadiens also had an apparent goal waved off, this one at 8:23 of the third period, when the puck crossed the goal line only after Maxim Lapierre crashed into goalie Semyon Varlamov. But Moore made it 2-0, an important cushion for when Washington scored with 2:16 left on a goal by Brooks Laich to make it 2-1. The Capitals had a power-play opportunity — and pulled the goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage — for the final 1:44, but couldn't rally for a tally.
The nation's capital was left in a stunned silence.
"I imagine it's tough for them," Gill said. "They had their eyes set on bigger things. I think they thought we were kind of a bump in the road. That's hockey. That's playoffs. I think we played better as a team than they did.
"At the end, they definitely took us for real. They didn't have a choice. It's only human nature to say, 'Oh, this team squeaked into the playoffs while we rolled in and we're going to roll over them.' It's not always like that."