Mike Knuble beat Carey Price for a shorthanded goal with 6.3 seconds left in a second period that was, until that goal, dominated by the Canadiens. The momentum swing was obvious in the third and the Capitals finally burned the Habs with back-to-back goals.
Alex Ovechkin struck for his second goal of the game with 8:51 to play and Jason Chimera scored 52 seconds later to drive the Capitals in a 6-3 victory at Bell Centre Wednesday. Washington can ice the Habs with a win in Game 5 on Friday back home at the Verizon Center.
"The big message is it's not over," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau stressed. "We can't start sitting there and looking at what is going on in other series and taking the games lightly thinking we're going to win because I know some of the players on that team and they have a lot of pride."
They do, but Montreal also may very well be a dead team skating right now.
The Canadiens again played well enough in spurts to beat the Capitals going away, but Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov was brilliant in making 36 saves -- including 20 in a deciding second period.
Brian Gionta scored a power-play goal with 4:18 remaining in the period to give the Habs a 2-1 lead. The 21,273 lucky fans inside the building were blowing their tops as they watched their team dominate the Presidents' Trophy winners.
They were ready to blow the roof off at the final horn of the second period, but the Capitals showed again why blinking can be a bad thing when they're playing.
With the Canadiens on the power play late in the period, Roman Hamrlik got a piece of Tom Poti's clearing attempt and the puck sort of deadened in the neutral zone near the penalty boxes. Boyd Gordon beat Hamrlik to the puck and with Knuble streaking down the right side, they raced in 2-on-1 against Josh Gorges.
Gorges dove to the ice and stretched out his stick, but Gordon's saucer pass went under the shaft and through the slot to Knuble, who rapped it in with 6.3 seconds left on the clock. It was the Capitals' second shorthanded goal in as many games.
More important, it took the Canadiens' legs out from under them. The dagger was felt throughout the now-quiet building, and Montreal had the entire 17-minute intermission to think about what went wrong in the final 10 seconds of their best period of the series.
"Those things happen in games," defenseman Hal Gill said. "It's a fine line and we're just on the wrong side of it. That's frustrating."
One of Boudreau's messages to his team in the second intermission was to pounce early in the third because he didn't feel Montreal could sustain the same energy.
"I didn't think it was impossible, but I thought if we could for 20 minutes muster up a great period that it would be hard (for Montreal) to keep up that pace," Boudreau said.
He was right.
The Caps, who were outshot 21-9 in the second period, had six shots through the first 2 1/2 minutes of the third. They were energized and they finally found reason to celebrate when Ovechkin scored his second goal of the game at 11:09.
Alexander Semin was stickhandling down the left wing boards, and by drawing an extra man to him, he was able to find Ovechkin cutting down the center. Ovechkin got the puck and made a quick move around Gill before firing a wrist shot that beat Carey Price.
Just 52 seconds later, the quick-strike Caps did it again as Chimera scored on a rebound after Marc-Andre Bergeron turned over the puck behind his own net.
Knuble and Nicklas Backstrom scored empty-net goals around a window-dressing goal by Dominic Moore with 1:18 remaining in the game.
"I can't blame our effort; I thought we had an excellent effort," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said. "I just think you have to give credit to their team. They are the kind of team that if you make mistakes they have skill and talent to capitalize.
"After a dominating second period for us, their goalie was really outstanding, and a mistake at the end of the period on our power play allowed them to tie it," he added. "We came back in the third and made another mistake. People like Ovechkin and (Nicklas) Backstrom, they're elite players and they'll capitalize when they get opportunities."
Varlamov, though, earned his first star for the second straight game because he was brilliant in the second period when the Habs were coming at him in waves -- and the Capitals were parading to the penalty box.
Washington committed three penalties in the final 7:31 of the period, but Varlamov allowed only the one goal -- and that one wasn't even his fault. Andrei Markov's hard pass from the left point aimed for Gionta hit off the end boards and bounced into the blue paint. Varlamov was high in his crease and since the puck was behind him, Gionta was able to tap it in to give Montreal a 2-1 lead.
Varlamov single-handily killed off the Habs first power play with six point-blank saves. If he didn't win the game for the Caps in the second period, he certainly gave them a chance to win it in the third.
"That's fair to say," Boudreau said. "He was great. They had so many quality chances in the second period that if he's not on top of his game we're probably going in (to the intermission) 4-1."
Instead, the Canadiens head to D.C. down 3-1 in the series. They were able to win Game 1 at Verizon Center, but have been outscored 17-9 in the last three games.
Ovechkin has four goals since failing to get a shot on goal in Game 1. Semin is off the schneid with his first point of the series, too. Varlamov is on top of his game, Knuble's constant crease-crashing has to have had an affect on the Canadiens' goalies and Washington's power play finally worked Wednesday for the first time in 16 tries this series.
Things certainly look bleak for the Habs, but they're not tossing in the white towel yet.
"We can beat these guys," Gionta said. "There's no doubt about it. We know it."
Shift of the game: With the Canadiens leading 2-1 and on the power play in the final seconds of the second period, Roman Hamrlik got a piece of Tom Poti's clearing attempt; the puck sort of deadened in the neutral zone near the penalty boxes. Boyd Gordon beat Hamrlik to the puck and with Mike Knuble streaking down the right side, they went in 2-on-1 against Josh Gorges. Gorges dove to the ice and stretched out his stick, but Gordon's saucer pass went under the shaft and through the slot to Knuble, who rammed it into a half-empty net with 6.3 seconds left on the scoreboard clock. After a dominating second period by the Habs, Washington stole the momentum back, went into the locker room tied 2-2 and won the game in the final 20 minutes.
1 - 0 WSH
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 MTL
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 WSH
4 - 2 WSH
5 - 2 WSH
5 - 3 WSH