Habs, Caps a smashmouth series

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:51 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Washington Capitals forward Eric Belanger lost his teeth and Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Martin put some bite on a top line.

Now it remains to be seen who will be smiling after Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal Monday night at the Bell Centre.

The Canadiens will have to break a six-game playoff losing streak at the Bell Centre if they are going to even the series at three games apiece and send it back to Washington for a Game 7 Wednesday night.

The Caps had a miserable Game 5 at the Verizon Center, most graphically summed up by Belanger’s self-dentistry on the bench after being gored in the face by the stick of Montreal defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron on the follow through of a pass.

Belanger’s helmet flew off and he lost six or seven teeth, one in an act that will go down as another example of how tough hockey players are, especially at this time of year. As a Caps trainer applied gauze to Belanger’s bleeding lip, the forward held up his index finger in a “wait a minute,” gesture, reached into his mouth and pulled out what looked like a bicuspid.

“I felt my teeth shatter, right away. I knew I was in trouble, but what are you going to do?” said Belanger, who was at the Capitals practice rink Saturday. “It’s the playoffs. I came back and tried to help my team win.”

Classic.

So was Martin’s line juggling, a rare act of adaptation for a coach who effects change about as often as he changes expression, which is to say not often. Martin put burly winger Travis Moen in Benoit Pouliot’s spot with little speedsters Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Moen, who had been largely invisible in this series, wound up scoring the winning goal in the Habs’ 2-1 victory.

Martin’s move put three Stanley Cup winners on the same line (Gomez and Gionta with the New Jersey Devils; Moen with the Anaheim Ducks).

“I don’t know if it was so much that they had won the Cup. I think maybe that line needed a little more muscle and I know they had played against (Caps star Alex) Ovechkin’s line a great deal last game,” said Martin. “I thought it gave them a little more physical presence.”

Martin also shortened his bench considerably in the third period with Bergeron, Pouliot, defenceman Roman Hamrlik and forwards Maxim Lapierre and Sergei Kostitsyn seeing little ice.

Martin found a combination that worked. The challenge for Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, his exasperation evident after the game (“I was a little too hot-headed,” he allowed Saturday) is to find a way to get more of his players going, particularly Alex Semin, who is proving to be softer than a Montreal bagel.

“He did put in a better effort I thought than in the last three or four games,” said Boudreau. “If we don’t get him scoring, then it is too easy to check certain guys. He just has to come through.”

Boudreau also lamented the fact the Caps’ bus, in his opinion, is running with a half dozen passengers a night, and no team, not even the Presidents Trophy winners, is going to win at this time of year with that many players kicking back with their skates up.

As the loser of the last game, Boudreau is contemplating some roster changes, but the fact is the Caps aren’t going to win without their big dogs running.

That was quite a Game 5.

A team on the cusp of elimination found a way to pull one out.

A player pulled out a bicuspid.

What’s going to happen next?

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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