Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Deja vu: Halak does it again, Montreal moves on

Canadiens complete historic comeback; Washington finishes epic collapse
Know those commercials with the hockey clips that ends with something like: "The Stanley Cup Playoffs. Where history will be made"? Well, history was made Wednesday night.

Jaroslav Halak maintained his phenomenal form, Dominic "I was traded for a second round pick" Moore scored the eventual winner late in the game and Montreal shocked Washington, 2-1, to advance to the second round after trailing in the series 3-1. It is the first time ever a No. 1 seed blew a 3-1 series lead to a No. 8 seed. The Canadiens face Pittsburgh in the second round.

So the lesson is: That second round draft pick was worth it.

The formula in Game 7 was pretty much exactly as in Game 6. Montreal scored first and went into a shell, pulling everyone back defensively in an attempt not to give the Capitals any room. Washington did its part, firing shot after shot at Halak, and didn't get anything past him until a broken play goal late in the game.

Marc-Andre Bergeron (4:06 ice time, 2:53 on the power play) scored on a 4-on-3 advantage in the final minute of the first period when Mike Green took a cross checking penalty in the attacking zone. Green is fortunate the Norris Trophy ballots are done already, because he was horrid on Moore's goal. Green attempted to play Maxim Lapierre off the puck, wasn't very effective at it, and ended up letting the puck sit in the middle of the ice.

Moore swooped in and fired a wrist shot far side on Semyon Varlamov for a crucial 2-0 lead. We knew Washington wouldn't get shut out, so getting that second goal was imperative.

For the rest of the game, it was all Halak, who finished with 41 saves. Both teams hit at least one post, including one by Capitals no-show winger Alexander Semin that would've given Washington an early 1-0 lead. Each team also had a disallowed goal, one when Mike Knuble made contact with Halak while the latter was in his crease, and when Lapierre shoved Varlamov into the cage. Both calls seemed correct to me.

Brooks Laich made things interesting by poking in a rebound with 2:16 to play, but Washington couldn't get anything else through, despite getting a power play with 1:44 to play.

Just as in Game 6, Washington fired 94 shots toward Halak. He stopped 41 of the 42 that made it on goal. The Canadiens blocked 41. Another 11 missed the net. Props to Andrei Markov and Hal Gill (six blocked shots each) and Ryan O'Byrne (five.) Forwards Tom Pyatt (four) and Benoit Pouliot (three) got into the act, as did rookie PK Subban (three), who was playing just his second career playoff game.

Montreal registered just 16 shots on goal - eight, three and five by period.

So why did Washington lose this series? A variety of reasons. Halak gets the first nod. I suppose he's not shaking any more, is he? He had a remarkable turnaround after a horrid ending to Game 2 - a game Montreal seemed to have - and a less-than-stellar Game 3. Let's give coach Jacques Martin full credit for going back to Halak. (Though to play devil's advocate, his other choice was Carey Price. Seriously, who would you go with?)

Next, Green was awful in the series, scoring no goals and registering just three assists while displaying horrid work in the defensive zone. In addition, he took a number of bad penalties that cost Washington one of its best offensive talents. He's becoming a postseason dud (one goal in 20 playoff games.)

Third, where was Semin? This is the second straight playoff series where he has been a non-factor. He failed to score any goals against Pittsburgh in the second round last season and had nothing but two assists in this series. For a guy who scored 40 goals, more production is required. (Takes a real genius to figure that out, right?) He ends the playoffs with a league-high (for now) 44 shots, but he's got to score.

Fourth, related to the previous two items, the vaunted Washington power play was 1-for-33. The Capitals scored more shorthanded goals than power play goals.

Whoever provided color commentary for Versus - I think it was Bill Jaffe - pinned something too. This team just isn't built for the playoffs. There's too much individualism and not enough team play. Montreal was just the opposite, playing almost entirely as a team. The Canadiens surrounded puck carriers, blocked tons of shots and no individual tried to do too much. All that great depth scoring Washington had disappeared, and Montreal deserves credit for shutting down that potent offense.

We've seen high seeds lose, and lose badly. Heck, we had the Devils this season. We've seen Presidents' Trophy winners crash out in the first round. Montreal is the ninth No. 8 seed to knock off the top seed. I won't say this upset tops every other one but it's got to be in the conversation.

Stats of the night
6:47 - Amount of time in the series that Washington held a lead on home ice, where the Capitals were 1-3 despite having the league's best home record in the regular season.

4 - Playoff series appearances for Ovechkin. Each has gone to Game 7, and the Capitals are 1-3 in those series.

1-4 - Jacques Martin's record as coach in Game 7s. He is the only coach in NHL history to lose four straight Game 7s.

0 - Eastern Conference division winners who advanced to the second round.

Quote of the night
"Before the series started, no one gave us a chance to win, not even one game. We proved (to) them they were wrong."
Halak. Hey, I said you'd win two games and that you'd steal one or two. Of course, I also said Montreal didn't have the defensive capability to hold Washington in check, and the Habs blocked roughly 4,923 shots in the series.

Thursday prediction
Oops, failed to check to see if there were any games Thursday. There is one.

San Jose 4, Detroit 3

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