In a season of stunning defeats, perhaps none was worse than the Montreal Canadiens’ collapse versus the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night. Despite a fast start and all the signs pointing to a Montreal victory, the team folded in the third period en route to being swept by the worst team in the NHL.
Their road didn’t get any easier as the team rolled into the first of the nation-capital games to end the week for a showdown with one of the league’s elite in the Washington Capitals.
The lineup saw the return of Brendan Gallagher after he missed the previous game with a lower-body injury. His return coincided with Artturi Lehkonen being a surprising scratch from the lineup as Paul Byron was bumped up off the fourth line to his spot on the third. Across from them all was a very motivated Alex Ovechkin, who was still sitting just two goals away from 700 in his career, and mired in a frustrating slump.
Bizarre lineup or not, in the opening six minutes or so the Canadiens were the more dangerous team. Max Domi was sprung on a breakaway, but only got part of his shot, which was stopped by Braden Holtby. Then Ilya Kovalchuk couldn’t lift his pass during a two-on-one to Nick Cousins either. Shortly after that it was Byron being denied on a breakaway as well.
Coming out of a TV timeout, the Capitals ran a set play to free up Ovechkin, who quickly buried goal number 699 by Carey Price, and spoiled Montreal’s solid start.
Jonathan Drouin almost immediately took a penalty after the goal, giving Washington the first power play of the game. Montreal’s penalty-killers stood tall, denying the Caps another goal, and as the penalty expired they sprung Drouin all alone on a breakaway chance. Drouin faked, then circled the net, nearly sliding home his wraparound chance, but the forward never quite got far enough around to take a proper shot at the vacated goal.
The Capitals took control of the game from there, but timely work from Price kept them quiet as the period entered its final minutes. With just over two left, the Canadiens’ own ridiculously powerful shooter made his presence felt after a quiet start. A scrum along the boards turned into Phillip Danault forcing the puck to the point for Shea Weber. The Canadiens captain pump-faked once on his shot, then uncorked a missile that clanged off the post and in to tie the game up, and give Montreal some life headed into the intermission.
The second period brought good tidings in the opening minutes for the Canadiens, with Ovechkin being sent to the box just 37 seconds into the period. A few good looks from Weber was all the man advantage mustered. Even after the power play the Canadiens had their chances, as Byron fired one off a post, and Cousins’s wide-open shot was swallowed up by Holtby in close.
The two goalies were rock solid for the majority of the period from there on out, but the two teams decided to get their offences going in the final minutes of the period once again. First it was the Capitals, buoyed by a great solo effort from Lars Eller, who continues to haunt his old club. Eller worked over Suzuki behind the net, fired a shot that hit Brett Kulak’s stick and sent the puck into the air, then swatted it under Price’s arm to put Washington up by one goal again.
It took around 90 seconds for the Canadiens to tie the game back up with a great effort from Gallagher in his office. Kulak’s shot floated in from the point, causing a pile-up around Holtby, and right in front was Gallagher who managed to slide the puck home for his 20th goal of the year.
Quick responses continued for the Canadiens, and just 30 seconds into the third they had their first lead of the game. As the Capitals overloaded on their defensive coverage they left a huge gap in the slot. Tomas Tatar picked out Ben Chiarot, who had all day to shoot, and the big defender snapped his eighth goal off the crossbar and in for a 3-2 Montreal lead.
While neither goalie yielded for the majority of the period, the Capitals did have their looks late in the game. Jakub Vrana was able to creep in behind the Canadiens’ defence, taking a perfect feed to trigger a breakaway chance on Price. Vrana tried to slide his shot through the five-hole, but Price denied him.
With a late icing the Capitals pulled Holtby in favour of the extra attacker, and after another icing they managed to tie the game. A pinballing puck in front of Price bounced around until Tom Wilson whacked it home, tying the game with just 20 seconds left on the clock, forcing the game to overtime.
After starting the first three periods well, the Canadiens also ended the overtime in quick fashion. Just 58 seconds in Max Domi spun off the half boards, finding Ben Chiarot with a pass, and the big defender rifled his second goal of the game through Holtby’s five-hole to secure the overtime winner.
This Saturday offers up a meeting with the rival Ottawa Senators, the Habs’ last game before the trade deadline. There’s a lot of potential moving parts heading into the game, but Montreal has some swagger back after a massive win in DC.