Washington, DC-The Capitals early surge wasn't enough to overcome their lackadaisical play in the final two frames of regulation as a 2-0 lead evaporated with a pair of second period tallies from Montreal captain Brian Gionta.
Neither team was able to put another puck between the pipes in the third, sending the game into overtime and eventually a shootout. Habs goalie Carey Price stopped Nicklas Backstrom, Matt Hendricks, and Alex Ovechkin in succession, leaving Gionta's goal as the lone marker in the shootout and giving the Canadiens a 3-2 victory at the Verizon Center.
Montreal was in danger of letting the game get out of hand early as the Caps scored a pair of goals in the first 7:49 of the opening period. However, they didn't let another across the goal line and did just enough to come back despite the best efforts of Washington goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
"We did a great job of sticking with it," said Gionta after the game. "I think that shows maturity that has come this year. Early in the year we might [have] shut it down. Today we stuck with our gameplan and it paid off."
Varlamov frustrated the Habs early and often, making 36 saves in a losing effort. Gionta scored on a breakaway, in which Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said Varlamov took a bad angle, and also on a two-on-one where he ripped it past the young Russian goalie.
"I think we kind of sat back on our two goal lead, and we can't afford to do that," said Mathieu Perreault who broke out of a month-long scoring drought to record a goal and an assist. "We need to keep going and keep pushing, and it came up to bite us in the [butt]."
Washington has been criticized for taking periods off and tonight it was evident that the team did not put in a solid 60 minute effort. The result was one point instead of two and another disappointing loss.
"At this time of year, we can't afford to just be good for 20 minutes, continued Perreault. "Playoffs are coming up and those are points we need if we want to get a good spot for playoffs. We gotta step up and play for 60 minutes."
Varlamov was one of the few who put in a good effort from start to finish as he continues to make a strong case to be the team's net-minder in the playoffs. He has allowed 17 goals in his past ten games for a 1.74 goals against average and a .946 save percentage. Despite the impressive numbers, he is just 4-3-3 in those outings.
Speaking of playoffs, the Capitals fell five points behind Tampa Bay for the Southeast division lead as the Lightning ripped off a convincing 4-0 win over the Eastern Conference leading Flyers. Washington visits Tampa on Friday for a crucial game that could allow the Lightning to seize an opportunity to lay a strong claim on the division title.