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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Canadiens-Capitals: Halak Leads Habs to Win, Forcing Game 6 versus Washington

Habs win, Habs win!

OK, now that I got that out of the way, let me get to the nitty-gritty. Yes, the Montreal Canadiens beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 in Washington last night.

And yes, the game seemed to follow the same script as three out of the five games so far: the Habs came out with fire in their eyes and took an early lead. The Caps scored to bring the Caps back into it and pressed for the tie in the third.

This time, however, it was not to be for the Capitals, as the Habs' goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, stood on his head and kept the Caps off of the board.

The Capitals received a goal from Alexander Ovechkin (5), and the Habs responded with goals by Michael Cammalleri (3) and Travis Moen (1).

Final Score: Habs 2 - Caps 1. The Caps lead the series 3 - 2.


Game Notes
1. Halak, Halak, he's our man....

As porous as Jaroslav Halak was during Game Two and Three—he let in nine goals over 88 minutes of play, on 50 shots against for an .820 save percentage—he was a beacon of strength last night versus the Caps.

From the drop of the puck, Halak made save after spectacular save to hold the lead for his team. Halak stopped 15 shots in the first period, 12 in the third, and 37 (out of 38) overall for a scintillating .974 save percentage.

Talk about a bounce back! As guess those three days off helped, as Halak looked out of gas during his last game. So does this mean that the two days off before Game Six on Monday will also do him well?

2. Jacques Martin, is that you?

Most of the criticism and blame for the Canadiens misgivings, over the last few days, have been focused on Jacques Martin.

Martin, for all his experience, has tended to be slow to adapt and generally speaking, has stuck to his system. As such, the Habs have been outcoached on far too many occasions this year.

Last night, however, Martin put on his best coaching effort of the season and playoffs, and it played a huge role in the win.

For starters, Coach Martin has Travis Moen on the second line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta and it paid dividends with Moen scoring his first of the playoffs and what would be the eventual game winner.

In addition, he shortened his bench in the third period, when the Caps were pressing for the tie. Not only did he sit Marc-Andre Bergeron and Roman Hamrlik, but he shortened his forwards to three lines. This is something that Martin has been reticent to do very much this year but which is necessary at certain times in a game.

It just goes to show that if/when Martin chooses to do in-game adjustments, he can coach with the best of them. Let's hope he keeps it up!

3. Moen, and Gionta, and Gomez, oh my!

As mentioned above, Jacques Martin decided to start the game with Travis Moen on Gomez and Gionta's wing and it worked. Moen brought a well needed physical element to that line and it served to provide much more room for Gomez and Gionta to ply their skills.

In addition, Moen was always driving to the net which created havoc for Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov and resulted in Moen picking up the Habs' second goal of the game.

It just goes to show how desperately the Habs need some jam on their top two lines.

4. Hal Gill is a playoff warrior.

As much as Gill was maligned by the fans base for most of the season for being slow-footed, a turnover machine, always taking bad penalties, and generally being ineffective, he is shining at the most important time.

Since the beginning of the playoffs, Gill has been consistent and effective for the Habs. Whether taking away shooting lanes, blocking shots, or being a stalwart on the penalty kill, Gill has so far been one of the unsung heroes for the Habs.

Now we see why the Pens were unhappy to lose him to free agency.

5. Speaking on unsung heroes, Josh Gorges ain't bad either.

Gill's defensive partner, Josh Gorges, has quietly been one of the Habs most consistent and effective defensemen all series long.

Last night, with Jaroslav Spacek out of the lineup, Gorges put in a yeoman's effort in helping to shutdown Ovechkin. The result was a team high 27:45 of ice time for Gorges and a 2-1 win for the Habs.


Look Out Ahead!
Like Pittsburgh losing to the Senators the night before, the Caps seemed a little bit like a team who was already looking ahead to the second round versus the Flyers.

I expect them to come out with a more voracious effort in Game Six in Montreal on Monday. The problem for the Caps, is that they might have lost their best chance at eliminating the Habs, last night, in the comfort of their home rink.

Now, they have to roll back into Montreal and try to fight off a Habs team who will be buoyed by their ravenous fans.

Yes, the Habs have lost the last six home playoff games they have played, but if they can buck that trend they will force a Game Seven and go back to Washington with momentum clearly on their side.

That is a big 'if' as they still have to win the game. I am wondering if the Caps, who felt they were cruising in this series, now begin to have the first pangs of doubt. If so, this series could take an interesting turn on Monday night in Montreal.


Next Game
With two days off before Game Six in Montreal on Monday night, both teams will have a lot of time to think. For a Habs team where I am certain not everyone believed they could win before last night's game, the weekend could serve as a rallying point.

In addition, the two days rest should allow enough time for virus stricken Spacek to get better and back into the lineup. He will be joining a lineup that wakes up this morning feeling that they actually have a chance to force a Game Seven and maybe even win this series.

For the Caps, they will have time to think about the lost opportunity and to focus on closing things out Monday night in Montreal. I wonder if the loss will ring in their heads a little too long and if doubt will truly creep into that dressing room. If it does, the Habs might truly have a chance to win on Monday.

If not, then the Caps should be able to press to close out the series in Montreal.

Either way, this continues to be one of the most entertaining playoff series in a long time. So, enjoy the weekend, Habs addicts and, like the Habs, gather your strength for Monday.

So will the Habs win on Monday? What do you all think? Is Game Seven in their future?

8 comments:

I don't even know where to begin. I've got a hangover. As much as it's killing me to do it, I have to give props to JM. Bear in mind that if he reverts to type, I reserve the right to come down on him with all my claws extended. However, if he continues to coach as he did last night - creative with the lines, benching the incompetent D players, and actually coaching on the fly - reacting to the game itself instead of relying on his nonsensical game plan - I might learn to accept him (but never like him). Of course the Habs might win the Cup too. Which do you think will happen first?

I've not had many good things to say about Moen all year other than "Good thing he didn't lose an eye", but I'll give him props for last night too. Maybe I'd like him better if JM used him correctly like he did last night.

OK - that's praise for 2 I normally dislike. I'm done now. There's only so far I can go.

Also - Heart Attack Halak continues to live up to his potential. I read on another board early on that he had activated "God mode", along with Markov. I hope he can activate it again come Monday, along with the rest of the Habs.

Excellent excellent chat by the way. Really enjoyed it. Will be back.

Hi there Tyg and thanks for your comment AND for taking part in the chat last night!

"Activated God mode"...lol!!!

That's is hilarious!

Yep, JM certainly did things right, for a change, last night. I just don't understand with all his experience why he doesn't do it more often.

It baffles me.

You're right, he has to continue to adapt rather than be rigid. Here's hoping he continues on Monday.

If he does and if Halak plays the way he did last night, the Habs might actually have a chance to force game seven.

Fingers crossed!

Argh! The foicking SENS! They inspire the Habs to greatness and then they themselves falter. I hope the Habs are learning the right lesson tonight as they watch, and the lesson for tonight is this: THIS IS WHAT NOT TO DO IN THE 3rd PERIOD WITH A 2 GOAL LEAD!!!!!

I hope they don't imitate the Sens game tonight on Monday. Watching this tonight, it was like the Sens imitating the Habs. Have the 2 teams switched mentalities? As long as the Habs come out a winner, does anyone NOT a Sens fan care? Cause I don't.

LOL! I love your passion, Tyg! It is a welcome sight, imo!

As for the Sens, yep they pulled a 'Montreal' in collapsing in the third.

The Habs can't worry about that. They have to play like they did in game 1 and game 5 and get the crowd behind them by scoing the first goal.

Do that, they should have a good shot at winning tomorrow!

K.

I disagreed with the decision to move 32 to the top line. It was like playing Gainey with Lemaire and Lafleur. It completely nullified Pouliot who has 15 goals in 39 games. The big line had only 5 shots. It messed with the third line which was very effective when it was 32-42-74. Of course it's already messed with by playing 40.

Playing 20 (who was nearly flawless) and shortening the bench in the third period were good moves. We eked out a victory with Halak standing on his head, Markov playing his best game as a Hab and Gomez and Gionta each playing 24 minutes.

This formula for success is not likely to be repeated. We need production from the 2nd and 3rd lines and more playing time for the 4th.

Terry Gain

Hi there Terry and thanks for your comment!

You make some good points. The thing is that Pouliot, while he has had a few flashes, has basically been in a slump for about a month.

JM was desperate and tried something—moving Moen onto Gomez and Gionta's wing—and it worked. Will it work long term? Who knows, but for now, I think he will stick with it.

But, ultimatley, your last point is the most important one.

As well as the Habs played, they were lucky to get the win. Halak was outstanding and they just held off the Caps attack in the third.

The Habs desperately need all four lines rolling/scoring. A goal from the bottom two lines would go a long way towards extending this series!

Thanks again!

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. If only the very steady and smart M.Darche had not had that uncharacteristic brain camp with that soft clearing attempt up the middle, we could be closing out W tonight, rather than trying to extend the series.

I should have also said we need production from 14 and 46, both of whom I thought were off in Game 5.

Terry Gain

Well said again, Terry. Clearly you know your stuff!

Yep, that Darche move was weak but ultimatley, it took the whole team to lose and will take the whole team to win...especially tonight!

I think that Plek tends to do good things pretty much every night, whether he is putting up points or not.

AK46 is another matter all together. It really bothers me how he seems to be floating a lot and not focused.

I really don't know what will happen, but I wouldn't be surprised if BOTH Kostitsyn brothers were moved in the summer. JM clearly has it in for Sergei...

Thanks again for your comments and please, keep em coming!

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