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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pre-Game Primer: Can Habs "Cap" Comeback against Washington?

Stressed? Anxious? Does your stomach feel a little more than a little upset?

Ya, me too.

But that's what it is to be a hockey fan in the playoffs.

Moreover, that's what it is to be counting the hours—as of this post, there are about ten left—till the Montreal Canadiens take on the Washington Capitals, in Washington, for all the marbles.

Winner takes all. Last man standing. King of the hill.

After 82 regular season and six amazingly entertaining playoff games, the Canadiens-Capitals series is poised to come to an end tonight and there are no shortage of storylines.

The Habs, who went down 3-1 in this series—and who most pundits picked to lose in four or five games—have somehow, miraculously come back to tie the series on the back of a stupendous performance by Jaroslav Halak.

Just so you know, Halak's 53 save performance was the most saves in any post-expansion NHL playoff regulation time game by any goaltender, in a winning effort, ever.

One for the ages indeed.

Now the stage turns back to the city of Washington with the Habs seemingly grabbing the momentum in the series. More important than momentum is pressure. Do the Habs really have none and the Caps a truckload?

It would seem that all the pressure in the world now lies squarely on the shoulders of the Washington Capitals, while the Habs have nothing to lose—except for Game Seven.

As I said yesterday, if the Caps lose tonight, their season will be considered a disaster. If the Habs lose, however, they will go home as heroes as they have already done so much more than was expected of them.

While the Caps played the "war of words" a lot during the first five games of this series, they seem to have abandoned that strategy since the Habs tied things up.

And, as much as the Canadiens have stayed away from the trash talk, yesterday there was a gem of a quote from Habs' Michael Cammalleri, which looks like a shot across the bow of the Capitals team.

When asked about tonight's game, Cammalleri said that all the pressure is on the Capitals because they are supposed to win the Stanley Cup, and they are supposed to beat the Habs in order to do so.

Subtle, but a comment that will no doubt resonate through the Caps dressing room. Not that they need additional pressure as I am sure that ever single player on the Caps team knows exactly how much is at stake tonight.

So, with about half a day to go before game time, questions start to arise about tonight's game.

Questions about whether or not Halak has started to get into the Capitals' players' heads. Whether the loss of Tom Poti—the Caps best 5-on-5 defenseman in the series with a plus-9 rating—will weaken an already porous Caps D-line.

Can Alexander Semin—who has zero goals in this series—wake up and finally score? Can the Caps powerplay that was first overall in the league during the season wake up—the Caps PP is 1-for-30 in the playoffs—and take advantage of the myriad powerplays that the Habs are giving up?

For the Habs, the questions are less numerous and more to the point: Can they complete the comeback? Can they really take three in a row from the Capitals? Can they win for a third time in this series, in Washington, and can Halak shutdown the Caps offense one more time this season?

No one knows the answers to these questions and, like an episode of Soap, you'll have to tune in later to find out.

But suffice it to say that I am expecting a full-bore effort from both teams as they both desperately want to win tonight's game and the series.

The Caps need to win it and the Habs want to.

The motivation may be different for each team but both will see a loss tonight as a failure. In a back and forth, up and down series, I expect both teams to come out like lions and fight to the death, or rather, to the next round of the playoffs.

So, whether you are a Habs or a Caps fan, I say let that sick feeling in your stomach build into a crescendo. Don't fight it. Let that nervous energy carry you till tonight's 7:05 pm faceoff.

And why the heck not? It shows that you care just as much about your team winning as the individual players do. So enjoy the game as it's sure to be the final cherry on what has been a supremely entertaining series so far.

So what do you think? Which team wins tonight? Will it be a blow out? Will it be a close one?

6 comments:

I wonder what Mike Green thinks of his "the Canadiens don't have much" comment now. If the Habs follow through, he'll be one of several scapegoats that will be singled out.

There's no sense in fighting the sick feeling in our collective stomachs today. Today will be a total loss in terms of productivity.

What I'm expecting for tonight's game is a close match that has a good chance of going to overtime. I know that every time I say something, the Canadiens have proven me wrong in this series, (and I hope they do it again), but I can't see Halak putting in another miraculous performance like he has in games 6 & 7.

Hey Kyle and thanks for your comment! You are right, today is a right-off from a productivity point of view!

As for tonight, I expect Halak to continue to be strong, but I agree that it is unrealistic to think that he can duplicate his Game 6 effort. Not going to happen, which means that the Habs need to bring a better effort up front.

The problem last game was not just the 53 shots against, it was the (approx) 10 shots from the high slot.

Those are frightening shots and you cannot expect your goaltender to stop.

Usually, the Habs are good at protecting the slot and keeping shots to the outside. Let's hope they do that tonight!

The pressure is definitely more on Washington. Even if they win it, I doubt they'll make it past the Flyers, which suits me fine. I think the Habs have pressure, but it's less more due to their own expectations than the expectations of the fans. We WANT them to win, but we're proud of Les Boys regardless. They were never supposed to get this far. Washington was supposed to be past all this by now, and yet here they are again - with only themselves to blame.

Kyle, with respect, I hope you're wrong about Jaro. I hope Heart Attack Halak puts on another great show for us Hab fans tonight.

Ah well, off to chug the Pepto until a reasonable hour I can start drinking.

Hey Tyg and thanks for your comment!

No question, there is more pressure on the Caps and yes, we are proud of Les Boys.

But don't kid yourself...they want to win. They didn't come this far and fight so hard just to lose the whole thing in Washington.

As for Halak, I expect him to be Halak but I think that, to Kyle's point, asking him to pull out another performance like last game might be asking too much.

To me, that doesn't mean that he'll play poorly, as I expect he will be on top of his game....I just don't think he can be AS good as he was last game, because that was a once in a lifetime performance.

Pepto....ahhh, smart woman. I'm drinking water to try to quell the acid!

7 hours and 20 mins to go....

Hey Tyg... You mean it's too early to drink???

OOPSIE.... Someone should have told me earlier! lol

LOL Anon. I'm about to join you. Besides, I'm out of Pepto and it's not helping anyway.

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