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Beating the best

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

WASHINGTON -- The Canadiens gave the NHL’s top team just about all they could handle on Wednesday night.

And while a major storm hit the D.C. area just prior to puck drop, the Habs weathered a different storm altogether in the final minute at the Verizon Center to leave Washington with a 4-3 win.

“I thought we did a good job against six skilled players, and [Jacob De La Rose] did a great job on the face off by pushing the puck into the corner,” underlined defenseman Victor Bartley on the sequence which followed after the Capitals added the extra attacker in the game’s dying moments.

Until that point, it looked like it might have been a one-sided affair, as the Canadiens became the first team from north of the border to defeat the Capitals in regulation time.

“We played a good game, even if it ended closer than it needed to be. Guys played hard on the road. They jumped on us early but Condon made some big saves. Then we went up 1-0 and settled into our game,” analyzed Brendan Gallagher, who soon made it 2-0 with a power play marker before the first frame had expired. “[Capitals netminder Braden Holtby] always plays us hard, so we tried to get as many pucks and people around the net as we could to make it as tough as possible on him. Pretty much all our goals had guys around there to make him battle -- we did a good job.”

The Habs work in front of the opposing goaltenders’ net may have made life miserable for Holtby, who was pulled in favor of Philipp Grubauer after Tomas Fleischmann made it 3-0 at 1:54 in the second, but his Montreal counterpart wasn’t complaining.

“We’ve had problems scoring first, so to put up two in the first period gave us a lot of confidence,” acknowledged Mike Condon, who has now picked up points in each of his last three starts. “We were rolling really well and limiting their scoring chances too, so it was an all-around good game.”

Indeed, head coach Michel Therrien was pleased with each facet of his team’s night in Washington.

“I’m proud of the boys. They worked hard and had scoring opportunities -- A+ opportunities. It was a good team win. Condon was amazing, especially in the second. We beat the best team in the league in their own barn. It’s something to be proud of,” added the Habs bench boss, who also took sole possession of the 43rd spot for most games coached in the NHL on the night. “That’s the beauty of sport. The game is played on the ice, and the boys rose to the occasion.”

That includes the defense, which held up its end of the bargain even with a new face on the ice.

“I think Bartley and all those guys who haven’t played regularly did a tremendous job, dished Lars Eller, who earned an assist on Alex Galchenyuk’s game winner. “We kept Washington to as few chances as you can with a team like that. They did a great job.”

And hard work is exactly what the Habs want the win to be remembered for.

“I hope [they didn’t underestimate us]. We’ve been through some stuff here in the last few months but we still believe we’re a pretty good hockey team,” continued Gallagher. “We’re just going to keep competing night after night. It’s about getting results and getting back to the winning attitude that we’ve had for so long in here. It’s a good step in the right direction.”

Condon echoed that sentiment matter of factly.

“We’ve been saying it all along -- we’ve got a good character group and we’re going to keep fighting until the very end.”

Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com

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