The last time Alex Ovechkin(notes) saw the Montreal Canadiens, he felt the sting of another Game 7 loss. At least the Washington superstar enters this matchup without the burden of the longest goal drought of his career.
Ovechkin and the Capitals will try to gain a small measure of revenge Tuesday night when they face the Canadiens for the first time since last season’s stunning first-round playoff loss.
Big things were expected from the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals after they finished the 2009-10 regular season with a franchise-record 121 points. A first-round matchup with the eighth-seeded Canadiens, who had 88 points, figured to be an easy step in a possible run to the Stanley Cup finals.
Montreal had other ideas and rode the stellar goaltending of Jaroslav Halak(notes) to a huge upset, reeling off three straight victories, including a 2-1 road win in Game 7. The Canadiens became the ninth No. 8 team to knock off a No. 1 in 32 such matchups since the NHL went to its current playoff format in 1994 - and the first to come back from a 3-1 series deficit.
Ovechkin did more than his share, leading the team with 10 postseason points, but the two-time league MVP dropped to 1-3 in Game 7s.
The Capitals captain may be experiencing some carryover effect, as he is on pace for the worst season of his six-year career with 13 goals in 38 games. Ovechkin had 28 goals by this point last season on his way to his fourth 50-goal season.
He avoided matching a career-worst nine-game goal drought Sunday night, scoring one and adding an assist in a 3-2 victory at Carolina.
“He’s been working so hard, and not getting bounces,” teammate Mike Green(notes) said. “Even that shot, it bounced, and he just had the right hand-eye coordination. Maybe in the past, it would have missed or something, and that would have been our luck. But it was big for him to get one today.”
Mathieu Perreault(notes) and David Steckel also scored for the Capitals (21-12-5), who have points in four straight (3-0-1) following an eight-game losing streak. The victory kept Washington tied with Tampa Bay atop the Southeast Division.
“Our division’s pretty tough, so any game within the division, coming out with two points is huge for us,” Steckel said.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau has a decision to make on his starting goaltender for this game after Semyon Varlamov(notes) ended a personal four-game losing streak with a 33-save performance Sunday. Michal Neuvirth(notes), meanwhile, is 2-0-1 with a 1.63 goals-against average in his last three starts.
Montreal (20-14-2) continued a season-high seven-game road trip with a 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday night. Tomas Plekanec(notes) scored for the Canadiens, who lost for the sixth time in eight games despite registering 39 shots on goal.
“We gave them a couple of easy breaks and then penalties - the big one and a bunch of others. It’s discouraging,” defenseman Hal Gill(notes) said. “There are some areas we need to be better, but sometimes it’s just making the little bounces go your way.”
Carey Price(notes) wasn’t sharp again and dropped to 2-5-0 with a 3.59 GAA in his past seven games. Price has allowed four goals or more in each of his last three starts against Washington, including one in last season’s playoffs.