It was a movie the Caps had seen twice before in Games 5 and 6—Jaroslav Halak stands on his head after the Montreal Canadiens take a first period lead and hang on for the improbable win.
In Game 7 in Washington on Wednesday night, Halak nearly shut out the mighty Capitals. He stopped 41 of 42 shots—not the 53 of 54 he stopped on Monday—but out of this world nonetheless as the Canadiens won 2–1.
In the three games the Canadiens had to win to take the series, Halak stopped 131 of 134 shots—a save percentage of .978. His performances brought out comparisons with Montreal greats Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden.
The Canadiens got the first goal of the game late in the first period on a 4-on-3 power play. Mike Green took a dumb penalty cross-checking Habs defenseman Andrei Markov to set it up.
And power play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron made the Caps pay. He slapped a hard shot to the top corner to beat Semyon Varlamov after a nice feed from Scott Gomez.
The unity and speed of the Canadiens was superior to the talent and size of the Caps. The Canadiens wanted it more and in the end they capitalized on the mistakes of their adversary.
At 16:24 of the third, Dominic Moore, acquired just before the trade deadline, picked up a loose puck after outskating Capitals defenseman John Carlson and lifted a shot over Varlamov’s blocker.
Just over a minute later, Brooks Laich scored on his backhand, bringing the Capitals within one and setting up a furious finish.
But that was as close as the Caps came and the Habs could now book their tickets for Pittsburgh.
Mike Green and Alexander Semin had horrible series for the Capitals. Forty-goal scorer Semin had one assist in seven games. Green, the league’s highest scoring defenseman, was restricted to three assists, took stupid penalties, and was exposed as a defensive liability. He may well have destroyed his chances of winning the Norris Trophy.
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau may soon be out of a job as well. The Caps, despite their regular season prowess, have struggled to put away teams in the playoffs, regularly going the limit in seven-game series.
Alex Ovechkin who was hot and cold in the series has a whole summer to contemplate his failure in the playoffs and Olympics. Nobody can question his talent but perhaps, he needs to have a change of game plan when the going gets tough.
The league’s most potent power play clicked only once in 35 opportunities. Credit must go to Montreal’s tireless defending and, of course, Halak.
“He let in that one goal tonight. We gotta work on that,” joked Mike Cammalleri, who led the Canadiens with five goals in the series, in an interview with RDS.
Being down 3–1 when nobody had given them a fighting chance initially, Cammalleri tried to explain how the Canadiens pulled off the unthinkable.
“We got a lot of guys that care in this room. We just want to keep playing. Maybe that’s what happened tonight.”
“Jaro was formidable. After the game and half rest, he came back really strong,” said Canadiens coach Jacques Martin who won his first Game 7. The humble coach didn’t want to talk about his achievement.
“The satisfaction is for our fans. We have fantastic fans. The team’s character speaks for itself.”
The Capitals loss marks the third time in five years the Presidents Trophy winner loses in the first round.
“No one gave us a chance at the start,” said series hero Halak. “They had a great season but we played more as a team. Guys were blocking shots all the time.”
“We got nothing to lose. We just go out there and have fun.”
Nothing could be more fun in hockey than winning Game 7 on the road against the best team in the league.
Now Montreal takes on Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is sure to be another terrific series.