They came to see Alex Ovechkin and, to a lesser extent, Alexander Semin. But it was another — unknown — Russian who stole the show.
Simeon Varlamov made 32 saves in his NHL debut, and Michael Nylander scored the winner with 2:32 left to lead the visiting Washington Capitals to a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.
The 20-year-old rookie goalie from Samara, Russia came up especially large over the last two periods, when the Caps were outshot 27-15.
"He won the game for us tonight," said Ovechkin, the reigning league scoring champion.
Varlamov also had luck on his side with about four minutes left and the score tied 1-1. First, Alex Tanguay somehow flubbed a wide-open slap shot from the hash marks. Then Alex Kovalev rang one off the post from point-blank range.
Soon after, Nylander scooped up a puck that Jaroslav Halak failed to glove and banked it off the Montreal netminder's skate for the go-ahead goal.
Nicklas Backstrom scored a first-period power-play goal for Washington, with assists by the high-flying duo of Ovechkin and Semin.
Habs rocked by injuries
Patrice Brisebois replied in the second period for injury-depleted Montreal (16-8-5), which went 0-for-8 on the power play and is mired in a 2-for-36 slump.
"Our power play is non-existent because we get outworked by the opposition," coach Guy Carbonneau said. "We have an advantage and we don't take advantage of that. That's the bottom line."
The Canadiens were missing six regulars as they wrapped up a 4-2-1 homestand.
No. 1 goaltender Carey Price sat out his third straight game with the flu, while forwards Saku Koivu (lower body), Chris Higgins (shoulder) and Georges Laraque (lower body), and defencemen Mike Komisarek (shoulder) and Mathieu Dandenault (broken arm) are nursing assorted ailments.
Higgins could be sidelined up to six weeks, the Montreal Gazette reported Saturday. Komisarek, out since mid-November, practised Friday and may return next week.
Caps hurting, too
Washington (18-10-3) has won five of six and appears to be gaining steam after forwards Semin and Sergei Fedorov, and defencemen Mike Green and Tom Poti returned from injuries this week.
Not so fast, though. Backstrom left during the third period Saturday after the Capitals had already lost Fedorov and Tyler Sloan to injury earlier in the game.
"We only dropped two or three guys, so we were OK, it was an easy night," joked Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who has had to juggle his lineups throughout the season and had no updates on the team's latest injuries. "I haven't heard. I'm afraid to go into that room any time."
The Southeast Division leaders opened the scoring midway through the first period with their red-hot power play.
Just nine seconds after Josh Gorges began serving a roughing penalty, Ovechkin threw the puck on net and Backstrom outmuscled two Habs in front to bang in the rebound. It was the 11th goal in the last 26 man-advantage chances for the Caps.
The equally (and improbably) red-hot Brisebois pulled Montreal even with 4:35 to go in the second. Skating the right flank on a three-on-two, the veteran defenceman took a feed from Tanguay and wired one over Varlamov's shoulder.
It was just the third goal of the season for Brisebois, but the second in as many games. He had a power-play marker in Thursday's 3-1 loss to the awful Tampa Bay Lightning.