– The Montreal Canadiens
said before their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against top-seeded Washington started that their margin for error would be miniscule.
The Capitals illustrated that very point in excruciatingly painful detail Wednesday night in taking a 6-3 victory in Game 4, a win that put Washington within one win of sending the Canadiens home for the summer.
Game 4 was Montreal's to win. They were the dominant team in the second period, outshooting Montreal 21-8 after the first 19:50 of the period was in the books. They were also holding a 2-1 lead and looked like a good bet to even the best-of-7 series at two wins each.
Then disaster struck with Montreal on the power play in the period's waning seconds.
Capital defenseman Tom Poti
cleared the puck out of the zone to relieve another wave of Montreal's incessant pressure. A Montreal defenseman got his stick to the puck in the neutral zone, but only enough to allow Washington forward Boyd Gorden to pick it up and key a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush.
Gordon carried down the left side and made a brilliant saucer pass that Mike Knuble
hammered past goalie Carey Price
with 6.3 seconds left.
Suddenly it was 2-2 -- and the energy was sucked out of what had been a raucous Bell Center.
"Yeah, that gave them a little bit of momentum going into the room, because I thought we carried the play in the second period and that one little breakdown winds up in your net and that gives them a breath going into the locker room," Price admitted.
That breath turned into a gale-force wind in the third period. The Capitals owned the first 10 minutes before scoring two goals 52 seconds apart – on consecutive shots by Alex Ovechkin
and Jason Chimera
-- to dash Montreal's dream of making this a best-of-3 series.
"Those things happen in games," Montreal defenseman Hal Gill
said, referencing the momentum-changing shorthanded goal. "It's a fine line, and we are just on the wrong side of it."
It was Gill who ended up on the wrong side of Ovechkin while the Russian star was putting the Caps ahead for good with his second goal of the game.
On the play, Ovechkin took a creative pass from Alexander Semin
to enter the zone with speed before using a shake-and-bake move to get Gill going the wrong way. With that accomplished, Ovechkin opened a window into which he could unleash his lethal wrist shot, which sizzled past Price from between the hash marks for a 3-2 lead.
Ovechkin "is a guy that has a lot of weapons," Gill said. "It's frustrating because I made an aggressive poke check and just missed. It's a fine line. I poke it away and it is out of our end. I miss it and it's in our net. That's the tough part of playing hockey, it's just an inch away from being a good play. He's the type of player that makes you pay when you miss."
Ovechkin may have made Montreal pay the ultimate price for a momentary lapse in execution. In the history of best-of-7 playoffs, less than 10 percent of the teams that fall into a 3-1 hole ever climb out.
Montreal will have a chance to start that process with Friday night's Game 5 at the Verizon Center. The Canadiens look at how often they have played Washington even in this series and believe that they can push the Capitals to the limit.
"We have another chance to beat these guys," Gill said. "We have to play that system that has been successful for us and we just need to bea little better on the details. It's a fine line, but we have to get to the other side of that line."
"We have another chance to beat these guys. We have to play that system that has been successful for us and we just need to bea little better on the details. It's a fine line, but we have to get to the other side of that line." -- Hal Gill
Can they get on the other side of the line that has put them in this unenviable position?
Without a doubt, said forward Brian Gionta
, who scored the goal that gave Montreal a 2-1 lead.
"We can beat these guys," he said. "There's no doubt about it. We know it.
"It's a tough thing to play so good for so long and then a break or two. They are an explosive team. They are going to take advantage of the opportunities you give them. We just have to make sure we are playing a little more responsible in those situations."