MONTREAL | Early in the evening, Sergei Kostitsyn used his skate to help set up a goal. Later, he took advantage of Milan Jurcina‘s inability to kick the puck to propel his Montreal Canadiens to victory.
Kostitsyn gained control of the puck when Jurcina couldn’t find it between his skates, and the Belarusian wing scored with 21.2 seconds left to give the Canadiens a 5-4 win and set off a delirious celebration at Bell Centre.
The puck originally came to Karl Alzner, but he was unable to corral it out of the air with his glove and it ended up at the feet of Jurcina.
“I saw it come off [Alzner’s] glove, and I don’t know what happened after that,” Jurcina said. “I just tried to spin, I think, and the puck was between my legs. I don’t know - I have to see [the tape].”
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau thought his burly defenseman could have done more to protect the Caps’ chances for overtime.
“He could’ve cross-checked [Kostitsyn] - anything,” Boudreau said. “If you can’t find the puck and the guy is coming at you, just stand there and cross-check him so he doesn’t get the puck.”
It was the second loss in a row for the Caps after a streak of 12 wins in 13. While Washington still has the second-most points in the Eastern Conference, Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau will be the assistant to Boston’s Claude Julien - and not Boudreau - at the All-Star Game here in two weeks because the Canadiens have a higher percentage of points earned. That spot was Boudreau’s to win had the Caps beaten the Canadiens.
While the first two periods offered plenty of free-flowing hockey, the goals came fast and furious to begin the final period. Former Caps center Robert Lang knotted the score at 2 with a five-on-three tally at 1:56. Lang took a pass at the bottom of the left circle and put a shot off Alzner and past Caps goalie Brent Johnson.
The goal came five seconds before Nicklas Backstrom was due to escape the penalty box, and the Canadiens were then able to take advantage of the second infraction as well. Kostitsyn kicked the puck toward the slot, and his older brother Andrei backhanded it into an open net at 2:39.
Tomas Fleischmann evened the score for the Caps about a minute and a half later when he took a pass from Matt Bradley and ripped a shot past Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak. The play had to be reviewed, but Fleischmann’s 13th goal hit the far post and popped the water bottle before exiting the net.
Fellow Czech native Tomas Plekanec potted his second goal of the night 16 seconds later, and the Canadiens again took the lead. Rookie forward Max Pacioretty made a beautiful backhanded pass from along the right wall to spring Plekanec, and he blasted a shot from the between the circles over Johnson’s left shoulder.
“We allowed four goals in the third period, and it is just dumb hockey,” Boudreau said. “It is dumb, but we never quit. … All we had to do was get the puck and get it deep, but we lost it at the blue line, we didn’t protect the puck - you can’t win championships like that.”
Michael Nylander - who hadn’t scored a goal since Dec. 13, the last time the Caps were in this building - was credited with his fourth of the season at 12:21 of the final period when a shot by Alex Ovechkin banged off his ankle and into the net for a power-play goal.
Alexander Semin scored twice - his first multigoal game since Nov. 12 at Carolina.
Johnson had only started one of the team’s past eight games - by far the most sitting and watching he has done all season. Given these teams’ mutual desire for aggressive, offensive-minded play, Johnson saw plenty of quality scoring chances and for the first 40 minutes proved up to the task.
“It was getting pretty run-and-gun for a while,” Caps forward Eric Fehr said. “That’s not really the way we want to play, and those guys have a lot of quick forwards. They are really great in transition, and they caught us getting a little too deep at times.”