- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 17, 2010

With Washington’s season perhaps on the line, Nicklas Backstrom picked a good time to record his first NHL hat trick, scoring three times in the final 23 minutes of play to give the Capitals a 6-5 overtime win over Montreal.

Facing a 4-1 deficit to the Canadiens late in the second period and hearing the boos from some disgruntled fans at Verizon Center, the Capitals kicked their game into high gear against the upset-minded club from Quebec, erasing Montreal’s three-goal edge and then fighting off a late Tomas Pleckanec tally to force the overtime thanks to John Carlson’s goal with 1:21 left in regulation.

Backstrom then capped his hat trick with a blast :31 into the extra session, shooting the puck past Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak, and sending the sellout crowd of 18,377 into a frenzy. The goal was big for Washington, as it prevented the Capitals from falling into an 0-2 hole to a lower seed for the second straight season, and also got the Caps a win that coach Bruce Boudreau said was “lucky.”

The night certainly didn’t start off well for Washington, as goaltender Jose Theodore was chased after allowing two goals on just two shots in the first nine minutes of the first period, with Boudreau bringing in Semyon Varlamov to try and send a wake-up call to the Capitals. The Habs had Washington on the ropes late in the second as Andrei Kostitsyn completed a hat trick of his own, putting the Caps down by three goals and seemingly ready to head home to Bell Centre with a commanding lead in the best-of-seven series.

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But Backstrom struck with 97 seconds left in the period to cut the lead to 4-2, then after Alexander Ovechkin scored his first goal of the postseason early in the third. Backstrom added the equalizer halfway through the third before notching the winner in the extra session.

“[Backstrom] had a good game,” Boudreau said. “Nicky’s a great player. Great players come to the floor when you need them.”

Ovechkin also rebounded from his pointless Game 1, recording three assists to go along with his third-period tally.

“Yeah, I feel pretty good today, especially in the first period,” Ovechkin said — after playing some basketball with Backstrom on the Wizards’ practice court during Boudreau’s postgame press conference. “I got into the game, got some hits, made some shots. I think I played not bad today.”

Montreal jumped on top one minute in, as after the Caps got some good chances on Halak, Brian Gionta unleashed a shot that Theodore misplayed badly, putting the visitors up just 60 seconds into the frame.

The Canadiens got their second goal on their second shot of the period, as Kostitsyn rifled a shot past Theodore with just 7:58 gone. After seeing his starting netminder yield the two goals, Boudreau was quick with the hook, making a change to Varlamov for the second consecutive year.

“I tried to concentrate on the game and was thinking only about the puck and about how to stop it,” Varlamov said through an interpreter afterwards of coming in relief.

The wake-up call from their head coach paid dividends, as Washington got on the board just 2:23 after the change. Eric Fehr got a clean breakaway thanks to a pass from Tomas Fleischmann and beat Halak with a shot over the netminder’s blocker with 9:39 left in the period to bring the Caps within one.

The game settled down a bit after the wild twists and turns of the first 10-plus minutes, with Ovechkin getting a few nice bodychecks as the Caps started to try to punish Montreal’s smaller forwards with some physical play. The Caps got some good chances in the closing seconds, but Montreal kept the lead into the first intermission.

Montreal got the first power play of the night just :37 into the second, as Eric Belanger was called for tripping Michael Cammalleri along the boards. However, the Caps turned in a good penalty-killing effort to remain just a goal down.

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