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Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin, left, checks Montreal Canadiens Tomas Plekanec during first period Game 3 NHL Eastern Conference quarter-finals hockey action Monday, April 19, 2010 in Montreal.


It's the scenario that had Montreal Canadiens fans in night sweats heading into the playoffs, although they'll have expected the tormentors in this particular nightmare to have different faces.

Any encounter with the Washington Capitals, who averaged a league-best 3.82 goals a game this past season, is liable to turn into a track meet on ice.

After two closely-fought overtime games to open the series, it did.

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But the usual suspects in Washington's attack - Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin - were bit players in the crimson epic that was a 5-1 Caps victory Monday night in Game 3 of the opening round series between the teams. Game 4 is Wednesday night.

Instead, it was left to Brooks Laich (goal, assist), Boyd Gordon (first NHL playoff goal after being scratched in Game 2), Eric Fehr (goal) and Matt Bradley (goal) to handle the offence.

Fehr has now scored six goals in the seven games he's played against the Habs this season.

Sure, Ovechkin scored on a one-timer after a slick pass from Backstrom in the second, but by then the score was already 3-0 and the result beyond any doubt.

"Coming in all everybody wanted to talk about was Ovechkin . . . you can shut down Ovechkin and still give up five goals to these guys, it's just going to happen that way and you saw that tonight," said Montreal's Mike Cammalleri, who assisted on Tomas Plekanec's consolation goal in the third.

And if there were any questions as to whether the Caps had rediscovered their verve in Saturday's 6-5 come-from-behind overtime triumph, there are no more - Washington is a team with the bit between its collective teeth.

"I think maybe we were a little bit nervous in the first two games . . . we were playing too safe," said defenceman Mike Green, who logged an assist, his first point of the series.

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To say that two games to one is an insurmountable disadvantage for the Canadiens is an understatement considering last night's showing.

If the Canadiens were able to chase their alumnus Jose Theodore from the Washington net in Game 2, the Caps returned the favour last night.

Jaroslav Halak was lifted at 8:33 of the second period after Fehr tucked a Laich rebound home to make the score 3-0 amid a mausoleum-like stillness in the Bell Centre.

After pulling off 45 saves to win the series opener, Halak has now given up seven goals on the last 27 shots he's faced.

And perhaps Ovechkin spotted something when he said the Slovak goaltender looked nervous after Fehr scored on a breakaway in Game 2 - he was handcuffed by Green's clear-in attempt early in the first, and despite nice stops on Backstrom and Laich, couldn't hold back the flood.

If there's any cause for Washington coach Bruce Boudreau to nitpick, it's that his team is now 0-for-14 on the power-play in the series.

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Montreal missed its finest chance to open the scoring when defenceman Jaroslav Spacek fired wide of a net vacated by sliding Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov, who kept the Habs at bay in a furious first and log 26 saves for the win.

At 15:08 of the second period, after a scrum in front of the Montreal net, things got a little surly.

First Brian Gionta took a penalty for repeatedly cross-checking Jason Chimera after the whistle, and then Scott Gomez earned himself a 10-minute misconduct for remonstrating.

Then mild-mannered Andrei Markov set upon Washington's Tomas Fleischmann as he encroached on Carey Price, who stopped 21 of 23 shots in relief, and Marc-André Bergeron went after Fehr following a whistle.

Plekanec also drew a double minor for first barging Fehr into Varlamov, and then excoriating the referee for calling it.

And it all started so brightly.

After a goalless first, the Habs opened the second with a power play, only to have Gordon score short-handed at 1:06.

Less than four minutes later, Laich doubled Washington's lead from the faceoff circle with Fehr setting a screen.

And four minutes after that, Fehr scored his second of a series that Caps fans will expect to swiftly conclude in Game 5 on Friday.

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