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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Canadiens-Capitals: Jaroslav Halak Leads Montreal to Game 7 Upset over Washington

Oh...my...god! What an incredible game.  And by incredible, I mean stomach-churning, stress-inducing, hair-losing, nail-biting hockey.
Wow.

In defeating the Washington Capitals 2-1 in Game Seven last night, the Montreal Canadiens became the first eighth seed to comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against a No.1 seed since the NHL adopted the current playoff format in 1994.

For a franchise that owns the record books I think it is fitting that they add this achievement to their already full mantle of accolades.

As we have become used to in this series, the Canadiens took the lead early and Jaroslav Halak shut the door the rest of the way to earn the win.

The Caps came close to scoring first, as snake-bitten Alexander Semin rang the puck off of the cross bar on a 3-on-1 early in the first. Had that goal gone in the Caps would have been off to the races and likely would have won the game.

The fact that it didn't go in—and that the Caps had a goal called back early in the second period for goaltender interference—were microcosms of the entire series for the Caps.

For whatever reason, they never played a full 60 minutes, throughout the series, and it came back to bite them in the butts.

TSN's Pierre McGuire put it the best when he said, last night, that a system won out over skill.

The Canadiens got goals from Marc-Andre Bergeron on the power play and Dominic Moore, and the Caps lone goal was scored by Brooks Laich.

Final score: Habs 2 - Caps 1. Canadiens win the best-of-seven series 4-3.


Game Notes
1. What more is there to say about Jaroslav Halak?

By shopping 41 shots last night, Halak pushed his record when facing 40 or more shots to 10-0-1 this year.  That is a staggering stat that shows that this is a man who thrives off of being busy in the crease.

Last night, as he has done on so many nights this season and during this series, Halak was again the games first star as he put on a goaltending clinic in again limiting the potent Caps offense to 1 goal against.

In case you’re counting, Halak has had 134 shots against over the last three games and has let in three goals for a scintillating .977 save percentage.

If there was any doubt before this series allow me to dispel it.  Jaroslav Halak has arrived as a legitimate No.1 in the league.


2.  After Halak, Hal Gill and Josh Gorges are the second and third stars of this series.

Again last night, the duo of Gill and Gorges completely shut down the Caps offense for large stretches of the game.  Acting as the Habs' No.1 defensive penalty killing unit, the stopped all three Washington power plays last night—the Caps pp finished the series 1-for-33—and both were shot blocking machines.

Hal Gill now leads all players in the playoffs for shots blocked with 31.

While Halak was spectacular again last night, the real story was the incredibly hermetic Canadiens defensive system and the number of blocked shots—the Habs lead the league in the playoffs with 117.  To keep that in perspective, the next closest team is the Ottawa Senators with 77 blocked shots.


3.  The fourth line continues to contribute.

During the third period where the Caps threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Canadiens, the Habs' fourth line seemed like the only one that was able to keep the puck in the Caps zone for any extended period of time.

Lead by Dominic Moore and a suddenly resurgent Maxim Lapierre, they caused havoc for the Caps defenders by using their speed and effective cycle.

The winning goal was scored by Dominic Moore as Lapierre knocked his man off of the puck to send Moore in alone who tucked the puck under Varlamov's arm to make it a 2-0 game.  Good thing too, because the Caps scored less than a minute later with 2:16 to play in the game.


4.  A team effort.

As unbelievable as this historic comeback is for the Montreal Canadiens, it was achieved by sticking to a system and working together.  It is interesting to hear the players' comments and to see them coming together as a group.

There is nothing like a little adversity to either bring a team together or tear them apart, and it is during those times that you really see what kind of group you have.

Whatever happens for the rest of the playoffs, the Habs have the hockey world that they are a much better group than most people, myself included, thought.


Look out ahead!
In eliminating the Capitals last night, the Habs earned the right to play the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins—starting tomorrow night—in round 2 of the 2010 playoffs.

Like with the Capitals, the Canadiens matchup surprisingly well against the Pens due to their focus on skill.  The Habs tend to play better against skill-based teams rather than brute-based teams.

That being said, the Pens are a much more balanced team than the Caps and have excellent goaltending so this will definitely be another uphill battle for Les Habitants.


Next Game
There's no rest for the wicked as the Habs fly to Pittsburgh to start round two on Friday at 7pm EST.  Game Two will be played on Sunday at 2 pm EST.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Habs lose Game One on Friday as it is very difficult to switch from focusing on Ovechkin and co. to Crosby and co. with only one day in between.  That being said, if Halak continues to play the way he has played through the last three games of the Caps series, who the heck knows what can happen!

So what do you think will happen on Friday and in the series against the Pens?  Do that Habs have a chance?  Does their Cinderella run end with the Pens?

8 comments:

Good God! What a game! I frightened my houseguests with my incessant screaming at the TV.

I guess I owe JM an apology, and perhaps MAB as well. I'm still not sold on JM's system, but he did up his game and actually coach - making changes on the ice and reacting to the situation. The time out last night was a good example. He's starting to think outside the box. Good for him, and for the Habs. MAB's goal bought him some slack from me as well, but he's such a defensive liability that I can't see switching my basic opinion of him either unless he suddenly starts potting a lot of goals on the PPs.

Gill, Gorges and company were simply outstanding, and Jaro has all the earmarks of another great Habs goalie - not an easy thing considering this team's history. If he continues to brick up the net against the Pens, if the shot blockers continue to perform their heroics as well, and if the offensive lines can get past Fleury, we have a chance with the Pens. Big ifs, yes, but not unrealistic ones.

That said, a lot of Friday's game is going to depend on how quickly JM and the boys can switch their system to work around their new adversary. If they can adapt quickly, if JM continues to think on his feet (my God did I just say that), and if the boys continue to bring all the heart and hard work and desire that they have shown against the Caps, the Pens are going to find themselves in a helluva fight.

I know some Pens fans wanted Montreal because they consider the Habs an easier target to pick off on their rush to repeat as Cup champions, but this is not the same team they faced (and bettered 3-1) this past season. Finally free from injury (for the most part - come back Spacek), they are learning and growing together as a team. The trial by fire is bonding Les Boys, and they are rising to the challenge.

I think if nothing else the series against the Pens will be just as exciting and dramatic as the one against the Caps. I think the Habs are unlikely to get cocky, but they are currently riding a high, and that confidence will play in their favor. I think the Pens and their fans might have underestimated Montreal just like everyone else, and they just might regret not getting the one-trick pony that is Washington. I don't think the Habs will get swept, and I think they're probably going to give the Pens as much hell as they gave the Caps.

Oy, my poor nerves. Off to the liquor store before Friday's game blog!

Hey Tyg, thanks, as always, for the awesome comment!

I don't think it is about owing JM or MAB an apology...JM was coaching like crap until game 5 when they changed everything up. He hasn't done that all season and he SHOULD. Hopefully he continues to do so!

As for MAB, he was on the ice a few times, 5-on-5, and caused a turnover the lead to the 3-on-1 for the Caps, so he still sucks! He is a 1 dimensional player: he has a cannon of a shot. And, as JM is FINALLY doing, he should ONLY play on the PP and at no other time.

You're right re: the Pens....they can be had if the Habs do a lot of things right. But, ultimatley, the Canadiens will be overmatched and I think it will once again be up to Halak to be the difference maker.

If he can pull on Pittsburgh what he did against the Caps, then the Habs will advance. If not, they're dead in the water, imo.

You are SO right about the trial by fire....this is a team that is REALLY getting to know each other right now and they are all pulling in the same direction. Pretty amazing to watch actually!

Agree re: your assessment except I think that after eliminating the Caps, NO ONE is taking the Habs lightly. Hopefully their confidence can carry them and Halak can be, well, Halak.

I think the Pens will win in 6 but, the X-Factor is Halak. He can change the complextion of this series and win it all by himself.

Let's hope he does.

ps: disgusting food for thought...imagine a Boston/Montreal conference final?

Hmmmm.... well I've read a few comments that makes me think that some of the Pens fans wanted the Habs because they see them as an easier mark. That said, I'm sure the Pens - because they are such a great team - won't be quick to underestimate their opponent. I also think the Pens will take the series, but I would love to be wrong - again. This is a different team playing at a different level. Once we got Markov back, we actually won a game against the Pens. It's not an insurmountable hill to climb, just a very tall one. Yes, Halak will be key, but really the whole team performed as a unit around him last night, helping him to build his wall, and they will have to continue to help him holding that fort.

Boston/Montreal would be vintage - just totally awesome - as long as Montreal wins. Otherwise, yeah, it would be disgusting. Downing the Caps and Pens to lose to the Teddy Bears? Just shoot me instead. Would be more merciful.

LOL!!

While I agree that the Pens fans likely think the Habs might be the easier route, I don't think that Crosby et al. does.

They are winners and have a cup already...I'm sure they know better than to take ANY competition in the playoffs lightly.

Yep, the Habs can beat the Pens...100%. They just need to continue to play as one 5-man unit with one 6 by 4 sheet of plywood, by the name of Halak, in nets.

This is gonna be fun!

Is Carey Price really going to start in Game 1??
http://bit.ly/cA0RwL

Hi there joey_b and thanks for your comment and link!

Ummm, you looked at the link right? You realize that's a joke I hope....

With lines such as “He promised that if I win we can go for ice cream after the game, so you know I’ll be bringing my ‘A’ game for this one.”

LOL!!!

Thanks for the link and enjoy the game tonight!

We're not doing live chats anymore? Pity. They're so much fun...

Hey there Tyg!

You'll be happy to know that, by popular demand, we will be doing live chats again starting for Sunday's game!

So spread the word! I'll be posting the link sometime today!

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