April 28, 2010
WASHINGTON, DC -- Jaroslav Halak was brilliant for a third straight game. Whatever he didn't stop, the Montreal Canadiens blocked. And that combination eliminated the best team in the regular season in a Game 7 on its home ice.
Montreal defeated the Washington Capitals, 2-1, frustrating the best offensive team in hockey and then eliminating it.
Before tonight, the No. 8 seed won in the first round eight times in 30 series since the NHL changed its playoff format in 1994. However this matchup was, in NCAA basketball tournament terms, a 1-vs.-16 battle between the President's Trophy winner for the highest regular-season point total (121) and a team with the lowest point total of any that qualified for the playoffs (88).
This was history for the Canadiens, and the Capitals were on the wrong side of it.
(UPDATE: Ovechkin's locker room comments at the end of post.)
The Habs used the same formula they had used in the previous two consecutive wins: Playing at least even in the first 10 minutes to control tempo; scoring the first goal; limiting the space and time to shoot for Capitals offensive weapons like Alex Ovechkin; and then, when all else fails, allowing Halak to continue his playoff mastery.
The Capitals had 42 shots on Jaroslav Halak, who is now 10-0-1 when facing 40 or more. The Canadiens had 41 blocked shots, including 7 on Ovechkin and 7 on Mike Green.
All the offense the team needed arrived via the power play late in the first period after Mike Green was given a cross-checking call in the offensive zone. Mark-Andre Bergeron, on this roster as a power-play specialist, blasted the puck and beat Semyon Varlamov at 19:30 for the 1-0 lead.
Twenty-four seconds into the third period, Washington thought they had tied the game after Ovechkin beat Halak, but the goal was waved off after the officials ruled Mike Knuble had made contact with the Canadiens goaltender in the crease.
Dominick Moore added the backbreaker at 16:24 to make it 2-0. Brooks Laich cut the lead to 2-1 with a hard-working goal from his knees with 2:14 left. That sparked a flurry to end the game, with Jason Chimera missing a rather open net high.
Then the ultimate insult: The Capitals got a power play with 1:44 left in the game. Down by a goal. And, just as it had all series, the power play failed them. Washington finished 1-for-33 with the man advantage. Montreal finished having killed 32-of-33.
A bitter end for the Capitals, a Stanley Cup finals favorite. A bitter season for Ovechkin, who now has losses in the Olympics before the medal round and the Stanley Cup playoffs' opening round in the same year.
This is going to be a summer of questions asked for the Capitals; like, for example, if RJ Umberger had a point. Do they have the answers?
UPDATE: Here's Ovechkin in the locker room, addressing the media: