The Montreal Canadiens are the perfect elixir for the Washington Capitals. It doesn’t matter where the game is played or which goalie is in net, the Capitals own the the Canadiens.
That played itself out Friday night in a 4-1 win at Verizon Center that snapped a three-game skid and put Washington back within a victory of a playoff spot and potentially the division lead.
“I think we lost three straight, right? So it was a big night tonight back home in front of our crowd,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “Get two points and you look forward to tomorrow night now in Toronto with another huge game for us. We have the potential to come back with four points in the last two nights, which is big.”
Things have been bad lately for the Capitals, “pretty awful” in the words of Mathieu Perreault. Six losses in seven games made the situation look bleak.
But players kept talking positive, aided by a plethora of mediocre Eastern Conference and Southeast Division teams that kept Washington very much in the race.
“We potentially still could have home ice in the playoffs. It’s not like we got to win 25 games out of 25 to get into the playoffs. We’re still in a good spot,” Brooks Laich said Thursday. “So still be positive, still come to the rink excited to play. Sure there’s a little bit of a gray cloud right now over us … but still you put a couple wins together and you’re really going to like the position you’re in.”
One win is a good start. Of course, there’s tempered optimism because the Capitals haven’t had any trouble beating the conference-worst Canadiens, 3-0 this season, and certainly no trouble winning at home.
Only Rene Bourque’s third-period short-handed goal kept Michal Neuvirth from his second consecutive shutout of the Canadiens, whose scoreless streak vs. the Caps ended after 260 minutes, 14 seconds. But that was hardly a factor in the outcome, and the score was not indicative of how one-sided this was.
“It’s important win for us. We talked about it. We needed two points and we got them,” said Neuvirth, who made 30 saves with his parents in attendance. “It’s huge. We needed that big. Every guy step up tonight, and it was a great team effort for two points.”
It might’ve happened back at Bell Centre as well, but there’s no doubt that the Capitals are a stronger and almost a completely different team at home. They picked up their 20th home victory in 30 chances this season, hitting that milestone for the fifth straight season.
And they followed the blueprint of scoring first and winning.
“We had a good first,” coach Dale Hunter said. “We drew a penalty and we scored the first goal and it starts there, and we played a sound, defensive game after.”
Mission accomplished. They stomped on the listless and lost Canadiens, scoring 6:58 in as Drummondville, Quebec, native Perreault continued tormenting his boyhood team. After some timid, trapping play, it took just two goals in 16 seconds in the second period to put it all away.
One of those goals came from Alex Ovechkin, who returned after missing Wednesday night’s game with a lower-body injury and looked to be skating without any limitations.
He said in an intermission interview on CSN that his team’s situation was “not a disco,” and stressed the importance of fun at the right times after the win.
“Lots of people say we have to have fun. Yeah, we have to have fun but have fun it’s not like laughing and it’s not joke around. It’s serious fun,” the captain said. “You have to be concentrate, and when you have opportunity to smile, you smile. But most of the time in the locker room it was pretty serious.”
The mood in the locker room this time was focused joy. Nothing ebullient, just the confidence that comes with finally winning a game.
“There’s points to be had, and we’re still in a race,” Hunter said earlier Friday. We’ve just to go out and perform.”
Two more points are there to be had Saturday night at the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have lost seven of their past eight. A Capitals win could put them back into the playoff picture and even potentially the third seed in the East — as long as they “go out and perform” on the road like they did Friday night at home.
“It’s only one game. We beat [an] opponent,” Ovechkin said. “We have to play the same way and better way tomorrow.”