ARLINGTON, Va. --
Through four games we've seen the Washington Capitals
at their worst and at their very best. It's been good enough to put the Montreal Canadiens
on the brink of elimination, with Game 5 scheduled for Friday (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS) at Verizon Center.
The Capitals have a commanding 3-1 series lead on the Habs, but no one thinks they've come close to putting together a full, 60-minute game yet. Coach Bruce Boudreau
went as far as saying they probably should have lost Game 2 and maybe even Game 4 as well, considering how the Canadiens played in the second period.
"Well, I'm happy to be up 3-1; I don't think the job is anywhere near done yet and quite frankly if players think that way than we're in trouble," Boudreau said Thursday from a quiet Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "You can look at all the games except for maybe Game 3 and say that, 'Boy, they could have gone either way at any point in time.'"
"Well, I'm happy to be up 3-1; I don't think the job is anywhere near done yet and quite frankly if players think that way than we're in trouble." -- Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau
Save for Game 1, when Tomas Plekanec
scored in overtime, the games have tilted in the Caps' direction because they've made it happen that way.
Washington has found ways to score in bunches to suck the life out of the Canadiens and frustrate them to the point where they are taking unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties. Goaltender Carey Price
took two in a row at the end of Game 4.
This has been Washington's M.O. all season, and so far so good in the playoffs, too. Based on what we've already seen from the Presidents' Trophy winners, here are five reasons why they are preparing themselves for a long run this postseason:
1. Sizzling top line
Everybody always says at this time of year you need your best players to play the best, and after a sub-par effort in Game 1, Alex Ovechkin
, Nicklas Backstrom
and Mike Knuble
have been downright spectacular.
Ovechkin has 4 goals in the last three games despite the fact that he's not launching seven or eight shots per game. He has only 10 shots on goal in the series, and that's including six in Game 2, so he's shooting 40 percent from the field, a scary number.
Backstrom led the Capitals' comeback charge in Game 2 with a hat trick, and he added a goal and 3 assists in two games in Montreal. He's tied for the playoff lead with 5 goals and is second behind Sidney Crosby
with 9 points.
And not to be outdone, Knuble has been an unfriendly visitor to the Canadiens' crease on a number of occasions and he's rattled goalies Jaroslav Halak
and Price. He scored a monumental shorthanded goal in Game 4 and has 5 points in the series.
Backstrom, Ovechkin and Knuble have combined for 11 of Washington's 19 goals.
2. Gnarly Varly
The only real difference in goalie Semyon Varlamov
this year is that he spells his first name differently. Other than that, it's been like déjà-vu for the young Russian goalie, who turns 22 next week.
Just like he did last season against the New York Rangers
, Varlamov stepped in for Jose Theodore
and has taken over this series.
He came on in relief early in Game 2 and was adequate in stopping 19 of 22 shots to lead the Capitals to a 6-5 overtime victory. He was awesome in Montreal and probably is the main reason the Caps have a chance to close the series Friday.
Varlamov made 26 saves in Game 3 and 36 saves in Game 4, but he had to be great in the first period of Game 3 and even better in the second period of Game 4 for Washington to have a chance to win.
He was and then some.
Should Montreal find a way to win Game 5, Varlamov might be the only player eager to get back on the plane to Montreal. He's 4-0-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .935 save percentage at Bell Centre.
"He's fabulous and that's how you win a lot of nights -- you have to have great goaltending," Knuble said. "He wasn't the starter right away and instead of sulking or worrying about it he stayed ready and he's a hard-working guy. Coming in (to Montreal) and leaving with back-to-back wins, you can't ask for more than that from a guy."
3. Masterful maneuvers
The additions Washington GM George McPhee
made this season were not flashy, but he wasn't going for that. He was going for effective, and the Caps' man upstairs nailed it.
, picked up Dec. 28, chimed in with a key goal Wednesday that turned out to be the winner. Eric Belanger
, a trade-deadline day acquisition, has won an incredible 70.8-percent of his faceoffs and now he's centering the second line. Joe Corvo
, also acquired at the deadline, has been a plus defenseman while adding a goal and an assist. And even though he hasn't played, Scott Walker
, the team's third major piece acquired at the deadline, has been a needed veteran voice in the locker room.
Just think -- the Capitals only gave up two NHL players for those guys in Chris Clark
and Brian Pothier
. (Milan Jurcina
also went to Columbus in the Chimera deal, but he was subsequently re-acquired.)
"There were things we needed and everyone we have gotten has really contributed," Boudreau said.
4. Spreading the wealth
"As much as our first line has been great, it feels like we haven't been relying on them to win games for us."
-- Eric Fehr
While the Capitals have gotten 11 goals out of their top line, the second line, especially Alexander Semin
, has not contributed much to the cause. Normally that would crush a team, but instead the Caps have been getting contributions from their third and fourth lines, so Semin's struggles haven't been as magnified.
has 2 goals, while Brooks Laich
, Matt Bradley
, Boyd Gordon
and Chimera each have one. Brendan Morrison
is the only current bottom-six forward who hasn't put the puck in the net yet, but he has an assist and has played just three games.
The blue line is contributing, too, with Tom Poti
dishing out 4 assists and Mike Green
adding 2 assists. John Carlson
and Corvo each have a goal and an assist.
"As much as our first line has been great, it feels like we haven't been relying on them to win games for us," Fehr said.
5. Killer instinct
We'll see how great it is for the Caps on Friday, when they get a chance to close the series. Remember, this core group has never led 3-1 in a series, but it did blow a 2-0 lead to Pittsburgh in last season's conference semifinals, a memory that already has been dredged up.
But judging by the last three games, it's pretty obvious the Capitals have the necessary killer instinct.
Whenever they've felt the need to score, they've gotten three at a time.
It was 4-1 Montreal late in the second period of Game 2, but not even 10 minutes into the third it was 4-4. It was scoreless through one period in Game 3, but before 10 minutes elapsed in the second, the Capitals had a 3-0 lead and Habs coach Jacques Martin had yanked Halak for Price.
Then, when Montreal was dominating play and leading 2-1 late in the second period of Game 4, the Capitals pounced with a two-on-one shorthanded goal and then scored twice more midway through the third to take a commanding 4-2 lead.
"There is so much firepower here that the game can change at any moment because we have the ability to score whenever we need to," Corvo said. "It's exactly what I expected (when I got traded here), the firepower and the leadership."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl