- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Capitals had a chance to close out their series against the Canadiens Friday night at Verizon Center, but a pair of markers in the first 7:01 of play kept Montreal alive in the best-of-seven series with a 2-1 win.

Michael Cammalleri and Travis Moen both beat Washington netminder Semyon Varlamov early as the Habs turned up the pressure with their season on the line. Although Alexander Ovechkin cut the lead to a single goal in the second period, Canadiens netminder Jaroslav Halak was able to hold off the late surge from Washington to force a sixth game Monday night at Bell Center.

After seeing Carey Price melt down in Game 4 in Montreal, coach Jacques Martin’s decision to switch back to Halak for Game 5 was critical, as he was able to stop 37 of 38 shots he faced and keep the series going.

“I think that [Halak] started the series, and even when I pulled him, it wasnt because he wasnt playing well,” Martin said afterwards. “I think that I pulled him, trying to change the momentum in Game 3. … Tonight, coming back here, I felt that he would bounce back with a strong performance.”

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was visibly irritated after his club’s performance.

“We have Game 5 in our building, and we play like crap the first 10 minutes and the game is over,” he said. “We’re not getting 20 guys playing. We’re getting 13 and 14 guys every night, rather than everybody coming to play. Tonight we had five or six passengers again.”

While he didn’t name the players — although he was critical of Semin during a later question — he did say he’d strongly consider lineup changes for Game 6.

“They came out and had a good start,” Brendan Morrison said. “They got the two quick goals on us. Even though we had 15 shots, we had way too many breakdowns in the first period. We knew they were going to come out. Their backs were against the wall and they outplayed us in the first 20 minutes. We made way too many glaring mistakes.”

Facing elimination, Montreal had a nice chance right off the opening faceoff, as Brian Gionta broke in and got a good look at Varlamov, but the netminder stopped the chance.

However, the Canadiens did strike just 90 seconds into the game as Michael Cammalleri rifled a shot past Varlamov for a 1-0 lead.

Montreal then increased their lead with 7:01 gone, as Travis Moen was left alone in front and he put a backhander past Varlamov.

“Our team usually scores three to four goals because we have a very good attack,” Varlamov said via a translator. “We weren’t panicking. The first thing we needed to do was get a hold of our emotions and keep playing our game.”

The Caps got a good chance to reverse the early Montreal momentum as Ryan O’Byrne was called for holding with 11:56 left in the period, but it was the Canadiens that had the best scoring chances during the power play. Washington got another chance with :02 left in the first infraction as Tomas Plekanec was called for high-sticking, but again the Caps couldn’t muster a whole lot with the extra man.

Washington got a couple of good scoring chances on Halak with just under five minutes to play, with Alexander Semin getting a couple of close-in shots that the Canadiens’ netminder stopped to keep Montreal up 2-0.

While Washington outshot Montreal 15-9, it was the visitors that held a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

“It could have been our last game of the season so everybody started with a lot of energy and we scored two goals in the first [period],” Halak said. “After that we were doing what we were supposed to.”

The start of the second period was delayed due to an issue of the camera pointed down at the goal the Caps were defending in the second period. After a slow start themselves to the period once the puck dropped, Washington finally got on the board.

After Ovechkin made a pass back to John Carlson at the point, Carlson’s shot was deflected to the front of the cage. Mike Knuble had a good poke at the puck in front which Halak stopped. However, Ovechkin swooped into the slot and poked the puck into the net with 3:52 gone in the second and put the Caps on the board.

The marker was Ovechkin’s fifth of the playoffs.

Montreal got a chance to up its lead when Joe Corvo was called for slashing in front of the Caps cage with 14:11 left, and the Habs nearly took a two-goal lead again when a chance defelected off the post during the extra-man advantage.

Washington killed off the chance, then got a power-play of its own when the Canadiens were called with too many men on the ice with 8:23 gone in the middle frame. But the Caps couldn’t cash in, and Eric Fehr was called for roughing after a scrum to negate the last :13 of the advantage.

The Caps finished the period outshooting the Canadiens 26-19, but Montreal held the lead.

After a back-and-forth start to the third, Washington got a good chance for the equalizer when Benoit Pouliot was called for holding with 14:45 left in regulation, but couldn’t pull even despite some good chances on Halak.

The Caps couldn’t quite get the equalizer, and then Washington was called for two many men on the ice with just 1:07 left in regulation, and couldn’t punch in the equalizer playing 5-on-5 with an empty net.

“It didn’t happen [tonight],” Morrison said. “I thought we applied some pretty good pressure in the second and third periods. They did a good job. We just didn’t find a way to overcome it tonight and I think it’s a direct result of our start. We got behind and they played their game.”

With one chance to finish off the Canadiens by the boards, the two teams will meet Monday night in Montreal with the Capitals having another chance to end the series — before the two teams potentially could head back to Washington for a Game 7 Wednesday night.

And according to the team’s captain, some of the Caps need to step up to end the series.

“We have to score on the power play,” Ovechkin said. “We had lots of chances. [Semin] has to score in the middle when he has a chance, [Fleischmann] had a chance. Our top guys have to score goals.”