The Montreal Canadiens had Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on the ropes, but they failed to send their opponent to the canvas and take control in Game 2 of the opening-round series on Saturday.
The upset-minded Canadiens blew a three-goal lead with less than 22 minutes of regulation time remaining to suffer a 6-5 loss in overtime at the Verizon Center. Instead of taking a 2-0 lead home for Game 3 in Montreal on Monday, the series now is deadlocked at 1-1.
While Ovechkin finally showed up late in the second period to help his team's cause, it was his linemate Nicklas Backstrom who provided the damage. He scored three goals in the come-from-behind win, including the winner with a shot off the rush from the slot 31 seconds into the extra period.
As devastating as the loss was for the Habs because of what could have been, the players were in a positive state of mind afterward. They kept a brave face and disputed that allowing a 4-1 lead turn into a defeat was a major downer.
"Nah, we came here for one [win]," said Montreal forward Mike Cammalleri, who chipped in three assists. "We got our one. Now it's time to go home and play. I liked our team. I think we did a lot of good things. We're still getting better. We're still excited about our potential. It was a good game."
This game definitely was a thriller to follow suit with the electrifying and dramatic action witnessed across the first four days of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. But one couldn't help wonder about the shockwaves that would have reverberated around the NHL if the Habs had hung on after building a 4-1 lead late in the second period.
Here were the eighth-seeded Canadiens, who only secured their spot in the post-season on the final weekend of the regular season and finished 33 points behind the Presidents Trophy-winning Capitals, on the verge of taking a two-game lead home to the Bell Centre.
"The big picture is the series, not the game," Montreal forward Brian Gionta said. "What we were able to do and what we can build off of is what we can learn from."
The Canadiens built a 2-0 lead before the game was eight minutes old when Gionta and Andrei Kostitsyn scored on their team's first two shots, which led to Semyon Varlamov coming in to replace Capitals goalie Jose Theodore.
Washington made it 2-1 on an Eric Fehr breakaway goal before the first intermission. Kostitsyn scored twice more to become the first Montreal player to check in with a hat trick in the Stanley Cup playoffs since Eric Desjardins in the 1993 final before Backstrom scored late in the second to start the comeback.
Ovechkin and Backstrom tied the game before the midway point of the third period, but Tomas Plekanec tapped in a Cammalleri backhand pass to put the Habs up with 5:06 remaining in the third period.
But the fourth goal and ninth point from the Canadiens top line of Plekanec, Cammalleri and Kostitsyn was not enough. Washington rookie defenceman John Carlson converted a Backstrom pass for the tying goal with 1:21 left in regulation time.
The Backstrom, Ovechkin and Mike Knuble line also combined for four goals and nine points in the game. After not registering a shot on goal in the series opener, Ovechkin checked in with a goal and three assists.
"It's not one line, it's not one guy," Gionta said. "They've got a lot of guys that can do some damage. Unfortunately, we let it slip a little bit tonight.
"It's never easy. Any loss in the playoffs is a big loss. Obviously, we need to learn from it and forget about it as quick as we can. That's another key to playoff hockey."
Despite the loss, Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak was decent in goal with 31 saves and the players in front of him blocked a whopping 30 shots. If there was a lesson to be learned, it was that no lead is safe against the league's top offence.
"We have this side of our team, we just never give up and the second period was kind of embarrassing for us a little bit," Backstrom said. "But we bounced back and that's a good thing for us. That's so important right now and we need those kinds of wins, especially at home."