WASHINGTON - Washington was 81 seconds away from disaster. But thanks to stars Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin, the Capitals feel they are back in the driver's seat.
Backstrom's third goal of the game came 31 seconds into overtime after the Capitals got the tying goal from rookie John Carlson late in the third to cap a furious rally from three goals down, defeating the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 on Saturday.
Instead of heading up to Montreal for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final series down 2-0, Backstrom feels his team has stolen the Canadiens' thunder.
"It feels like we've put the pressure on them and got the momentum back," Backstrom said. "Even if we scored with just one minute left, it's so important. We never gave up."
After being held off the scoresheet and failing to register a single shot on goal in Game 1, Ovechkin got a goal and three assists and was credited with five hits before the game was seven minutes old.
He agreed with Backstrom that the Canadiens can do nothing to stop the mighty Capitals if the offensive powerhouse plays to its potential.
"We just need to play our game," Ovechkin said. "It doesn't matter how they're going to play, if we play our game and finish checks, shoot the puck, go to the net, we're going to win. If we play the same way we played in the third period, we're going to be successful."
Ovechkin ran over both Marc-Andre Bergeron and Andrei Markov on his first shift, and he said that allowed him to put his poor Game 1 performance behind him immediately.
"Strategy? To destroy people?" Ovechkin said when asked if those hits were part of his game plan. "No, my job is to score goals, but if I have a chance to hit somebody I'm going to hit him. It was good for me mentally. It was Bergeron on my first hit, and he's not that strong of a guy, so it was good for me."
Andrei Kostitsyn had a hat trick of his own for the Canadiens while Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec also scored.
In spite of the disappointing loss, the Canadiens can go home knowing they accomplished their mission of earning a split in Washington and stealing home ice advantage.
"We came here for one and we got our one," said winger Michael Cammalleri, who had three assists. "Now it's time to go home and play. I liked our team, I think we did a lot of good things."
Capitals starting goalie Jose Theodore allowed the Canadiens first two shots to go in and was pulled before the game was 10 minutes old. It marked the fourth time in his last seven playoff starts that Theodore was pulled from the game.
Semyon Varlamov came on and stopped 19-of-22 shots to allow the Capitals to erase that early 2-0 deficit.
"In the first period when you get a 2-0 lead it's nothing special in the playoffs," Ovechkin said.
Jaroslav Halak was once again bombarded with shots as he was in Game 1, but this time only managed to stop 31 to take the loss.
"Our goaltending was solid," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. "If you look at the goals, the last two were situations where we let them penetrate the zone on an even-man rush."
Halak refused to talk to the media after the game.
The ice was still fresh in overtime when Backstrom crossed over the blue-line and used Roman Hamrlik as a screen to beat Halak with a screaming wrister high on the glove side.
With Montreal leading 4-2 going into the final period, the Capitals mounted a furious comeback to tie it up.
Ovechkin got his first of the playoffs at 2:56, poking a rebound off a Carlson point shot through Halak's legs to make it 4-3.
Just over 30 seconds later a big scrum broke out after Gionta put the puck in the Capitals net after it had been knocked off its moorings. Ovechkin responded by punching Gionta in the face, sparking a wild scrum and eventually a fight between Scott Gomez and Tom Poti.
"I saw him push Ovie, so I wanted to push him to let him know I was there and that he wouldn't be able to push Ovie," Poti said. "He kind of jumped me a little bit and said, 'Let's go.' So I said okay."
The fight energized the sellout Verizon Center crowd of 18,277 - and the Capitals.
"I think the players rallied around him, they were all patting him on the back," Boudreau said. "It told us something about how much he wanted to win."
The constant pressure finally turned into the tying goal, as Ovechkin found Backstrom all alone in front at 9:47, making it 4-4 and blowing the roof off the Verizon Center.
Montreal grabbed the lead right back at 14:54 on a beautiful give and go between Plekanec and Cammalleri, resulting in Plekanec's second of the playoffs on a tap in to make it 5-4 Canadiens.
But the rookie Carlson tied it up again at 18:39 with a wrist shot that slipped under Halak's glove for his first career playoff goal, making it 5-5 and sending the game to overtime.
"There's just something about him, glory follows him," Boudreau said of Carlson, who scored the overtime winner for the United States in the gold medal game at the world junior championship in January. "Some guys get that, you come up in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and some guys can do damage. I think John Carlson's going to be like that."
Montreal went ahead only one minute into the game when Theodore whiffed on his attempt to catch Gionta's rolling puck slapshot, giving the Canadiens a 1-0 lead.
It took nearly seven minutes for the Canadiens to muster another shot on goal, but they made it count when Kostitsyn was allowed to walk into the slot and fire a screaming wrist shot past Theodore at 7:58 of the first for a 2-0 Canadiens lead.
"It was more of a deflating thing on the bench where I thought we needed a change," Boudreau said of his decision to pull Theodore. "The first was a knuckleball, for your first shot on goal it was a tough one. And we made such a bad play on the second one, Kostitsyn was in between the circles for a wrist shot."
Fehr got the crowd back in it when he scored on a breakaway at 10:21 to cut the Caps deficit in half.
Kostitsyn got his second of the night off a great feed from Cammalleri to make it 3-1 at 11:06 of the second. With Brooks Laich off for tripping, Kostitsyn completed the hat trick at 17:44 when Jaroslav Spacek's point shot bounced off his leg for a 4-1 lead.
A pall fell over the Verizon Center as the crowd noise dropped to nearly nothing, but Backstrom made sure the Capitals entered the third period only down two goals.
His shot from the side boards coincided with Mike Knuble being pushed into Halak, allowing the puck to slip by at 18:23 and make it 4-2 Montreal.
Notes: Kostitsyn's hat trick was the Canadiens first in the playoffs since Eric Desjardins in Game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup final. That hat trick capped a dramatic come from behind 3-2 Habs win that propelled them to their 24th Stanley Cup. . . Brendan Morrison was back in the Capitals lineup after being scratched for Game 1. He took the spot of Boyd Gordon, who joined Quentin Laing, Scott Walker, Tyler Sloan and John Erskine in the press box. . . The Canadiens scratched Ryan O'Byrne and Ben Maxwell, while Glen Metropolit is out with a shoulder injury.