WASHINGTON -- With back-to-back sizzling wrist shots from John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom the Washington Capitals may have avoided the dreadful fate that befalls too many Presidents' Trophy winners.
It's too early to tell if the Capitals really are off and running in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Saturday night in Game 2 against the Montreal Canadiens they looked a heck of a lot like the team that ran away to the NHL's regular-season title.
Dicey defense and a whole lot of offense, to be sure -- but in the end, their stars, young and younger, shined and the Cardiac Caps came away with a 6-5 victory in overtime.
John Carlson scored the game-tying goal with just 81 seconds left in regulation and Backstrom used Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik as a screen to rip convert on his wrist shot from the high slot 31 seconds into overtime to finish off his first career hat trick and set off a wild celebration at Verizon Center.
The series, now even at one win apiece, shifts up to Montreal where Game 3 will be at Bell Centre on Monday night.
The Caps are relieved to be going to Montreal all even.
"It's so important right now, even if we scored with 1:21 left, it's so important and now it feels like we put the pressure on them and we got the momentum back," Backstrom said. "We never gave up and we need that right now."
Washington quickly fell behind 2-0 as Jose Theodore was beaten on the only two shots he saw. Theodore, who made 35 saves Thursday in Game 1, was yanked in favor of Semyon Varlamov 7:58 into the game after Andrei Kostitsyn scored the first of his three goals.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said he wasn't necessarily looking to embarrass Theodore with the switch; instead, he said, he was looking to prop up his team and get a lift from the crowd.
Varlamov delivered with 19 saves, but unlike in Game 2 of last year's playoff series against the New York Rangers, the young Russian was not the biggest story of the night.
Saturday it was all about the Capitals' big guns, who were mostly invisible in Game 1.
Backstrom had his hat trick and an assist. Alex Ovechkin, who was held without a shot Thursday night, had a game-tying goal in the third period and three assists to go along with six shots on goal and eight hits.
"Great players come to the fore when you need them," Boudreau said.
"I give them credit," added Montreal coach Jacques Martin. "Their top players excelled."
Not before Montreal put a death scare into the Verizon Center crowd that couldn't rock its red through most of the second period, when the Canadiens grabbed a 4-1 lead on a pair of goals by Kostitsyn.
The Belarusian winger scored twice within just over 6 1/2 minutes to give the Habs a three-goal lead with 2:16 left in the period. Kostitsyn's second goal was on the power play with Brooks Laich in the box for tripping Mike Cammalleri.
"The second period was embarrassing for us a little bit," Backstrom said.
It was until the Caps' Swedish center, who had 101 points in the regular season, came through in a big way with some help from his favorite Russian friend.
With Ovechkin and Mike Knuble screening Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak (31 saves on 37 shots), Backstrom fired a slap shot from the top of the left circle that cut the deficit to 4-2 only 39 seconds after a long video review following Kostitsyn's goal.
The review was for a play previous to Kostitsyn's obvious goal, but it might have sapped some of the momentum Montreal had built.
"He just shot the puck and Knubs and I were in front of the net and it went in," Ovechkin said. "We just have to shoot the puck whenever if we want to score."
That strategy of shooting and crashing worked well in the third period, when the Capitals figured out how they have to beat Halak.
Ovechkin scored on a rebound of Carlson's shot 2:56 into the period by poking the loose puck between Halak's legs. Thirty-four seconds later Tom Poti came to Ovechkin's defense and fought Scott Gomez
. That definitely energized the Capitals.
"Gomez pushed (Ovechkin) and I pushed him back," Poti said. "He said, 'Let's go', and I said, 'Alright.' I saw him push (Ovechkin) and I just wanted to let him know I was there and you're not going to be able to push him."
Backstrom tied the game at 4-4 a little over six minutes after the fight by scoring from Halak's doorstep after Ovechkin shot the puck off Hamrlik and chased down the rebound. He found it in the corner and then slotted a perfect pass to Backstrom for the tap-in goal.
Knuble crashed the net hard and ran Canadiens' defenseman Jaroslav Spacek into Halak as the puck went into the corner.
"We watch video and he leaves lots of rebounds and our coach tells us just go to the net and find some rebounds," Ovechkin said. "You have to do something, especially me. I like to shoot the puck but they play so tight on me and I don't have lots of time and space to shoot the puck so I just decided to go to the net and find some rebounds. It worked."
It nearly didn't matter. Plekanec converted on a 2-on-1 with Mike Cammalleri after a giveaway by Mike Green with 5:06 remaining in regulation to give the Habs a 5-4 lead.
However, the Capitals rallied themselves on the bench and used their never-say-die attitude to force overtime.
Carlson, who would have been considered an unlikely hero heading into the playoffs, showed why he has been the Capitals' best defensemen through the first two games by scoring on a fantastic wrist shot after fielding a drop pass from Backstrom.
Just 3 1/2 months ago, the 20-year-old scored in overtime to lift Team USA to the gold medal at the World Juniors on a very similar looking wrist shot, just 10 feet closer.
"There's just something about him," Boudreau said. "Glory follows him. Some guys get that. They come up in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and they are the ones that do the damage. I think John Carlson, in his career, is going to be like that."
Boudreau was lauding Backstrom in a similar way because No. 19 was the one who came up with the overtime winner, giving this hockey-mad region a chance to enjoy their Sunday knowing their team is not in dire straits.
"The only way we were going to win tonight is if we decided to go all offense," Boudreau said. "By no stretch did we probably deserve to win, but we got lucky and we did. We're not out of the woods. We have to tighten up if we want to succeed, whether it's this series or beyond."