MONTREAL - It's become a recurring theme for the Montreal Canadiens: dominate one stretch of the game, yet find a way to lose in the end.
The Canadiens were by far the better team through 40 minutes Wednesday night, but the final 20 cost them as the Washington Capitals pumped in four third period goals for a 6-3 win and a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern-Conference quarter-finals.
"Hockey games are 60 minutes or more," Habs winger Michael Cammalleri said. "That's the disappointing part. In the last three losses there's been points in the game where I thought we took the game to them and even had a lead at some point."
In Game 2, with a chance to go up 2-0 in the series on the road, the Canadiens led 4-1 late in the second period but ultimately allowed the tying goal with 81 seconds left in regulation before losing 31 seconds into overtime.
In Game 3, the Canadiens dominated the first 20 minutes but couldn't score, then allowed a short-handed goal early in the second that opened the floodgates in a 5-1 loss.
Wednesday night, the Canadiens were swarming Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov with wave after wave of pressure in the second period. But the young Russian netminder was up to the task, only allowing one out of 21 shots past him.
Mike Knuble tied the game on a short-handed goal off a 2-on-1 with just under seven seconds left in the second period, and the game was 2-2 even though Montreal was outshooting Washington 33-18 through 40 minutes.
"We tried to protect the lead, but they scored on the next shift," defenceman Andrei Markov said. "It's tough to stay like that. I don't know why, but next game we have to realize that we have to play a strong 60 minutes. Not only 40, not only 20, but the whole 60."
Considering how this series has gone, the result in the third period was almost predictable. But Habs defenceman Hal Gill says that shouldn't have been the case.
"We have to overcome those obstacles and be better and battle through them," Gill said. "We were still in a 2-2 game and we've got to come back and be a little more diligent, but also come back with the aggression and passion we had the whole game."
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price got his first start since March 31, and through two periods had allowed two goals on 18 shots. But he faced that same total in the third period alone and was unable to match Varlamov's heroics. He allowed two goals in a 52-second span then compounding the problem by taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for shooting the puck at the celebrating Capitals.
"Four goals (against), I'm not pleased," Price said. "I'm not going to make excuses. I felt like I could have played better. You're that close (from) playing a great game or an average game."
As dispiriting as it was to come so close to winning yet ultimately losing by such a wide margin, the Canadiens are focusing on the fact that they have won in Washington before and need to do it again Friday night.
"We can go there and upset them," Gill said. "We did it before and we should have done it again (in Game 2)."
That's been the Canadiens main problem in this series: losing the games they should have won.