MONTREAL -- The Washington Capitals quickly bounced back from a minor blip in their run toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Montreal Canadiens plunged right back into the defensive troubles that have defined them ever since they clinched a postseason berth.
Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer scored two goals apiece and Braden Holtby made 35 saves as the Capitals erased the memory of a 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators by beating the Canadiens 5-1 on Saturday for their ninth win in 10 games.
The Canadiens (27-13-5) have allowed 25 goals in compiling a 1-4-0 record since clinching a playoff spot April 11, and defenseman Josh Gorges said he's seen just about enough.
"You can talk about X's and O's and execution and systems -- we were soft," he said. "When you get beat off pucks, beat out of the corners, we're loose in our coverage, we're not picking up the right guys, that's why it looks like the execution's not there."
The Capitals (25-18-2) were anything but soft in extending their lead to three points atop the Southeast Division on the Winnipeg Jets (23-19-3), who collected a point in a 5-4 shootout loss at home to the New York Islanders earlier Saturday.
The Capitals now return home after a two-game swing through Eastern Canada to await a showdown with the Jets at Verizon Center on Tuesday.
While he was pleased with his offensive output, Ovechkin's focus remains squarely on Tuesday.
"I'm pretty happy I scored and I’m pretty happy we win the game," Ovechkin said, "but we still have three games left, and our next game is going to be the biggest game of the year."
Ovechkin now has 21 goals and 10 assists in his past 20 games, while Backstrom has four goals and 21 assists in the same period.
"He looks good now," Washington coach Adam Oates said of Ovechkin. "A month ago I would say that everybody was saying he lost his touch. Obviously we had faith in him and we know what he can do and he proves it. We're going as he's going and he's playing great right now."
When you play with the League's hottest player, sometimes your own career season can get lost in the shuffle.
Just ask Brouwer, who scored his 18th and 19th goals of the season, leaving him three shy of his career high of 22, set in 78 games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009-10, and surpassing his total of 18 in 82 games with the Capitals last season.
"I'm not looking for personal attention; I just want to get in the playoffs," Brouwer said. "[Ovechkin] is the guy who gets all the attention and everyone else is pretty much in his shadow, which is fine by me. But I'm having a good year. I feel like I'm getting myself in good shooting positions, I get a lot of good looks."
Oates acknowledged just how important Brouwer's explosion has been for his team.
"Brouwer has had a tremendous year," Oates said. "He plays a diamond spot on the [power play], which is a very important spot for us, and he scored a lot of goals. He's changed his game a little bit for us, now he's playing with Mike [Ribeiro], and we expect that line to score goals."
Meanwhile, the Canadiens continued their uncharacteristically poor defensive play since clinching April 11 following a 5-1 win at the Buffalo Sabres, perhaps eliminating any of the good will they may have garnered with a 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at home on Thursday.
Montreal now has allowed 25 goals on 149 shots in its past five games, a save percentage of .832. Carey Price -- who has allowed 19 of those 25 goals -- allowed the second and third shots he faced to beat him Saturday before the game was six minutes old, and he gave up four goals on 11 shots by the 7:50 mark of the second period.
But Gorges refused to allow Price to shoulder all the blame, which he was getting when some in the Bell Centre began mock-cheering routine saves once the game got out of hand.
"I've never understood that, in your home building," Gorges said. "The guy's been outstanding for us for years. And this isn't on him. Are you kidding me? This is on all of us. I take offense to that because he's a good friend of mine; he's a teammate of mine. I know his character, I know his pride. He's battling every night to be his best and we let him down. One or two goals I'm sure he'd like to have back, the rest is on the team. For them [fans] to mock him, I don't like that."
A Canadiens team that played with the lead for the great majority of its first 40 games now has held a lead for just 21:50 in its past five.
"When you're chasing the lead after the first few minutes, it puts you in a different position and forces you to play a different game," Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec said. "I don't know if we're not ready or if we're too easy in our minds knowing that we're in the playoffs, but the first thing we said to ourselves when we clinched was we don't want to stop playing. We were ready for that and we talked about it."
Max Pacioretty scored Montreal's lone goal, while Price finished his night with 20 saves.
Despite the team's slide, the Canadiens remain two points ahead of the Boston Bruins atop the Northeast Division after Boston's 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier in the day. The Bruins, however, hold two games in hand, and will make up one of those games Sunday at home against the Florida Panthers.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was a man of few words after the game, but spoke louder with his actions by cancelling a planned day off for his team for the first time this season and scheduling a practice Sunday morning.
"We need to be better at a lot of things, honestly," Therrien said.
Ovechkin gave the Capitals an early lead by taking advantage of a P.K. Subban turnover deep in Montreal's end. Ovechkin collected the puck on his opposite wing and broke in on goal on a sharp angle. He faked a pass to the middle and quickly snapped a shot between Price's legs at 4:49 of the first.
Just 68 seconds later, Brouwer curled off an offensive-zone faceoff win by Ribeiro and took a harmless looking wrist shot that got through a crowd and past Price at 5:57.
Brouwer scored his second of the game at 3:49 of the second on a wrister from the slot that beat Price to the stick side, and Backstrom made it 4-0 at 7:50 of the second with a tap-in off an Ovechkin feed on the power play.
Ovechkin scored his 30th at 13:23 of the third, one-timing a Mike Green feed that squeezed through Price's legs to make it 5-0.
The Canadiens broke up Holtby's shutout bid at 14:51 of the third when Pacioretty converted a feed from Plekanec.
The Canadiens will head out on the road for three games to close the season, starting in New Jersey on Tuesday, meaning their next game at Bell Centre will be a playoff game.
Therrien vowed his team would be ready.
"My focus as a coach is to make this team ready for the playoffs," he said. "That's my responsibility. We have a week left."
|Alex Ovechkin (29) ASST: Nicklas Backstrom (39)|
1 - 0 WSH
|Troy Brouwer (18) ASST: Karl Alzner (4), Mike Ribeiro (32)|
2 - 0 WSH
|Troy Brouwer (19) ASST: Marcus Johansson (14), Mike Ribeiro (33)|
3 - 0 WSH
|PPG - Nicklas Backstrom (7) ASST: Alex Ovechkin (21), Mike Green (10)|
4 - 0 WSH
|PPG - Alex Ovechkin (30) ASST: Mike Green (11), Mike Ribeiro (34)|
5 - 0 WSH
|Max Pacioretty (13) ASST: Tomas Plekanec (19), Josh Gorges (6)|
5 - 1 WSH
|Matt Hendricks Cross checking against Yannick Weber|
|Steve Oleksy Interference against Brian Gionta|
|Martin Erat Holding the stick against Yannick Weber|
|David Desharnais Holding against Mike Ribeiro|
|Mike Green Tripping against Michael Ryder|
|Mike Ribeiro Too many men/ice - bench|
|Tomas Plekanec Hi-sticking against Mathieu Perreault|
|Brian Gionta Roughing against Jack Hillen|
|Jack Hillen Roughing against Brian Gionta|
|P.K. Subban Slashing against Nicklas Backstrom|