WASHINGTON -- Rookie defenseman John Carlson tried to explain away his undeniable impact on Washington's improbable OT win Saturday night as beginner's luck. His coach, Bruce Boudreau was having none of it.
Carlson, just 20, scored the biggest goal of his young life with 81 seconds left in regulation to set up a 5-5 tie and force overtime against Montreal in Game 2 at Verizon Center. Almost 16 minutes earlier, he had assisted on an Alex Ovechkin goal that made a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 lead turn into a 4-3 deficit.
"I was just in the game and it was a lot of fun," said Carlson, who emerged as a late-season option after a strong season on the farm. "I just got lucky top be in the right situation with right people on the ice and capitalized."
Not so fast, young man.
The tying goal was a little more special than just blind luck wasn't it, Mr. Boudreau?
"There's just something about him," Boudreau said. "Glory follows him. Some guys get that. They come up in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and they are the ones that do the damage. I think John Carlson, in his career, is going to be like that."
He already is.
On Saturday night, Carlson added to his legend at the most opportune time.
The Caps had already squandered an epic comeback, watching a rally that turned a 4-1 deficit into a 4-4 tie evaporate when Tomas Plekanec scored Montreal's fifth goal on a 2-on-1 after an egregious play by defenseman Mike Green at the defensive blue line. Suddenly, Montreal was on the brink of taking a two-games-to-none stranglehold against the heavy favorite in this series.
Suddenly, the Washington Capitals found themselves 90 seconds from a funereal flight to Montreal for Monday's Game 3, forced to ask questions about their team and their mental makeup that would find no easy answers.
But then Carlson stepped to the fore and delivered another shot at redemption.
As the Capitals broke out of their zone, Mike Cammalleri had committed a slashing penalty against Ovechkin, but the Caps kept pushing forward as the referee raised his arm to signal a delayed penalty. Nicklas Backstrom lugged the puck into the attacking zone and drew a pair of defenders with him before dropping a pass to Carlson.
"Nicky made a nice pass to me and I just tried to squeak it through and there was a lot of traffic in front," Carlson said.
Again, modesty appears to one of Carlson's strong suits.
It was a strong shot that left Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak feeling helpless and the Capitals feeling on top of the world.
And just 31 seconds into overtime, the Capitals were literally on top of the hockey world, celebrating the unlikeliest victory of these playoffs as Backstrom completed his tour de force with a hat trick goal that took the roof of the Verizon Center.
"I thought I had a pretty good game, but (Backstrom and Ovechkin) they all outdid me by a lot," Carlson laughed. "They are our best players and they showed it tonight."
As Boudreau said, Carlson is entering that rarefied atmosphere.
He was Washington's best defenseman Saturday night, despite being its least experienced. And he found glory Saturday night, just as he did a little more than four months ago when he scored the winning goal against rival Canada in the gold-medal game at the World Junior Championships in Saskatoon.
In fact, Saturday night's goal was eerily similar to the gold-medal goal. Perhaps the only difference was that Carlson was perhaps 10 feet closer this time around.
Yet he did not want to really entertain comparisons between the goals. Each time the similarity was raised, Carlson passed as deftly as he has distributed the puck throughout this series.
He is more concerned now about chasing the Stanley Cup. His goal Saturday night took those dreams off life support. For him, that was the only thing that mattered.
"I don't know about the biggest, but certainly it is the best right now," Carlson said. "It's my first goal in playoffs and it was a big goal and I'm pretty happy with the win."