The Washington Capitals visited the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night, their first trip to the Bell Centre this season, using a late-season winning streak to reach the top of the Southeast Division. They continued their heady play of late, going into one of the most hostile barns in the league and emerged a 3-2 victor for their fifth straight win.
On top of the world (for the moment), the Capitals were riding high off captain Alex Ovechkin’s return to form. Winning four games in a row, the Capitals were ready to prove they could keep pace with a non-Southeast Division team.
Ovechkin, tied for the lead league in goals (25, with Tampa Bay Lighting’s Steven Stamkos), but was still facing criticism because the majority of his goals (21), had been scored against Southeast teams, with only four goals against playoff-contending teams.
Montreal would prove a fine test for Ovechkin, who passed with flying colors. He scored his 26th goal of the season midway through the second period, taking the lead in the NHL scoring race and making another Rocket Richard Trophy look likely to be added to his collection.
Less impressive than the goal itself was Ovechkin’s stickwork as he flew down the wing, past defenders, before he scored to tie the game at 1-1. It wasn’t a super-new move for Ovechkin, but proof that he’s growing and evolving as a player, no doubt due to being under the tutelage of head coach Adam Oates.
Defenseman Jack Hillen sent a slapper toward Canadiens goalie Carey Price that initially appeared to have been tipped in by either Jason Chimera or Eric Fehr, to put the Capitals up 2-1. Hillen was credited with the goal, but it was eventually given to Fehr, as it looked like he ever-so-slightly tipped it in from his position in the crease. Hillen and fellow defenseman Steven Olesky picked up the assists.
Hillen finally did get his first goal as a Capital, though, in the third period off a shot from the point that beat Price glove side. The Capitals went up 3-1, and Hillen had another two point night, just like that.
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth earned his second consecutive start and was solid all evening, making the saves that kept his team in the game and no doubt rewarding the trust of his coach in his ability to relieve Braden Holtby.
The Capitals held on to win, 3-2, bringing them to five consecutive wins, their longest streak of the season. They are now at 44 points, and holding on to the third seed in the Eastern Conference.