The final 20 minutes against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night could have been the last period of meaningful hockey that the Montreal Canadiens played this season. In it, they pushed to try and crack the defending Stanley Cup champions. But in the end, they fell a goal short in a 2-1 loss on Thursday night at the Capital One Arena in Washington.
Nic Dowd’s goal less than three minutes into the second period gave the Capitals the lead, and although Montreal would come close a few times, they could not get the tying goal despite putting 34 shots on Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
Evgeny Kuznetsov got things started with a partial breakaway in the game’s opening seconds, but Carey Price was able to make the save.
Andrew Shaw and Max Domi would have chances for Montreal in what was a very good start for the Canadiens. Braden Holtby was solid when he called upon as was Price.
The Capitals took the lead with 1:24 remaining when Carl Hagelin forced a turnover and Lars Eller was alone in front of the net and beat Price.
But Montreal tied the game before the end of the period - on a power play - when quick passing to Joel Armia in the slot allowed the puck to bounce to a wide open Shea Weber at the side of the net, allowing the Canadiens to go into the intermission tied.
The goal came on a play we have seen the Canadiens try lately, with quick tic-tac-toe passing trying to open seams when the penalty killers move to defend.
Early in the second, the Capitals would re-take the lead when Washington capitalized on another turnover. Nic Dowd fired a shot past Price.
The second period had chances on both sides, but the score remained 2-1. Price made several very big saves throughout the period, but especially late. Brett Connolly pounced on a bouncing puck but Price made the pad save.
Then a little later, Alex Ovechkin had a chance on a partial break but the Canadiens goaltender again made the save, keeping his team in the game.
The teams traded scoring chances in the opening minute of the third period with Tomas Tatar and Ovechkin getting shots from dangerous area.
Price made another save on Nicklas Backstrom with under nine minutes remaining, continuing to do anything he can to keep it a one goal game. He made 29 saves in the loss.
Montreal would have their best chance late in the third period when Jeff Petry’s shot hit off of the post behind Holtby.
The Canadiens would pull their goaltender in the final minute, but they wouldn’t be able to get the tying goal they needed.
Now, with one game remaining, Montreal has to earn one more point than the Columbus Blue Jackets. Any combination where Columbus earns two points would eliminate the Canadiens. The Blue Jackets play the Rangers in New York on Friday and in Ottawa on Saturday.
- Once again, this felt like a playoff game. The Capitals got heavy in the second period, and the crowd reacted to every hit. To their credit, the Canadiens didn’t back down and still played well, despite not generating the offence they wanted late in the game.
- If this season doesn’t end up with a playoff run, these games are great experience for a young team that hasn’t seen much playoff hockey. They are playing big games against very good teams, and they’ll come away stronger from it, even if the results aren’t immediate.
- One of the things that is clear about this year’s Canadiens is their inability to generate much offence if the opponent clogs up the neutral zone. It’s almost like they don’t trust their skill when they need it the most. They generated 19 high danger scoring chances, but only three in the final period.
- Shea Weber and Victor Mete were on the ice for 11 high danger scoring chances for, and zero against. On the road, against a team like the Capitals, that is almost unheard of. Mete’s progression in the second half is one of the biggest bright spots for the Canadiens.