By Steve Ginsburg
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The resilient Montreal Canadiens kept their season alive by shocking the top-seeded Washington Capitals 2-1 on Friday to trim the deficit in their Eastern Conference first round playoff series to 3-2.
First period goals by Michael Cammalleri and Travis Moen gave Montreal a 2-0 lead and the Canadiens then relied on the steady netminding of Jaroslav Halak to repel the Capitals.
"This team was not going to lay down and die," said Cammalleri. "We knew our backs were against the wall. We felt if we could out compete them, we had a chance. And we were able to do that."
Washington, who had the NHL's best regular-season record, will try to close out the best-of-seven series against the eighth-seeded Canadiens on Monday in Montreal.
The Capitals trailed 2-0 seven minutes into the game after Cammalleri and Moen beat Washington goaltender Semyon Varlamov to silence the red-clad capacity crowd of 18,000.
"We let it slip away," said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. "We have game five in our building and we play like crap the first 10 minutes and the game is over."
Washington, the NHL's highest-scoring team, fired 38 shots at Halak but only managed a second-period goal by Alex Ovechkin, his fifth of the series.
Cammalleri scored his third goal of the series when he fired a 40-foot slap shot past a stunned Varlamov just 90 seconds into the game. Montreal made it 2-0 when Moen flicked a 15-foot backhander that beat Varlamov to the stick side.
The Canadiens were outshot 15-9 during the opening period but their two-goal lead gave them a much-needed boost after losing the last three games of the series.
"They got the two quick goals on us," said Capitals forward Brendan Morrison. "Even though we had 15 shots, we had way too many breakdowns. We made way too many glaring mistakes."
Montreal took the series opener in Washington and led 4-1 in game two before losing 6-5 in overtime. The Canadiens then lost the next two before staving off elimination on Friday.
"Obviously, it's great we won the game but it's not over yet," said Halak. "We can't get too high, it's only one game. We are still behind and still need to play our best."
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)