For the fourth straight playoff series under Head Coach Bruce Boudreau in his three seasons behind the bench the Washington Capitals will play a game seven. In this instance, however, they come in to the final tilt having lost game six for the first time. Jaroslav Halak was superb in goal once again for Montreal and he stopped 53 of 54 shots to lead the Canadiens to a 4-1 victory at the Bell Centre. Game seven is Wednesday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. The Caps are 1-2 in these same past situations under Boudreau.
Let’s get to the highlights and analysis from an awesome display of goaltending by Halak, who is unbeaten for Montreal when facing 45 or more shots:
In my blog on Sunday, I spoke of Washington coming out faster in the early stages to try and take a “jacked up” Montreal crowd out of the game. The Capitals did put pressure on Montreal early, getting six of the first seven shots, but #41 was huge in goal and his play sparked the Bell Centre crowd into a frenzy. Then when Mike Cammalleri scored at 7:30 and followed it up at the 9:09 mark, the Caps chances of surviving the first period looked bleak. The Capitals would catch a break when Maxim Lapierre took a dive to give Washington a 74 second five on three advantage, but the anemic Caps power play could not convert (0 for 6 on the night). Not scoring on a five on three is usually a good sign you are not going to win the contest. So, despite outshooting the Habs, 18-10, in the opening stanza the Capitals would trail 2-0 and their first period deficit in this series is now 8-3.
The rest of the game was dominated by Washington and they outshot the Habs, 36-12, but despite four more power plays (now 1 for 30 in the series), they could only get one puck past the Team Slovakia goaltender in the 2010 Winter Olympic games. That one goal was a nice redirect in front by Eric Fehr off of a Mike Green point blast and it came at even strength with the score 3-0 and just 4:50 remaining in the contest.
The Caps spent Sunday afternoon working on their power play and Boudreau juggled his lines in an attempt to get Alexander Semin going. #28 was goalless coming into game six and had just one assist in the series, so the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner put him with Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich. They had some chances early, but it was Semin’s giveaway that led to the Shaone Morrisonn cross-check penalty that resulted in Cammalleri’s first tally. Semin, who had 6:55 of the 10:26 of power play time Washington received, did fire seven shots on net but he had six blocked and missed three others, including some good looks from in the slot. In addition, he continues to shy away from contact and is still allergic to the front of the net. Bottom line, I think he should be moved off of the first power play unit and his time on ice should be cut. The guy who scored 40 times in the regular season is just not producing nor showing any sign that he will pay the price to score an ugly goal.
Alexander Ovechkin, who scored the only goal for Washington in game five, fired eight shots on net, had four blocked, and two that missed the cage. The Great #8 went to the net, at times, but I would really like to see Boudreau and power play coach Dean Evason move Alexander the Great down low, remove Semin from the first unit, and put one of the other defenseman out on the point with Green (1 assist), with a preference to John Carlson. Carlson had 1:21 of late power play time and seemed to do a better job of getting the puck through to the cage. Joe Corvo, who played 4:12 with the man advantage, had a game high 10 shots on net, including being robbed in the slot by Halak on one of the finest grabs with a glove you will ever see.
Semyon Varlamov (18 saves on 21 shots) was 4-0 at the Bell Centre before game six but this would not be his night. He had no chance on Cammalleri’s first goal, which he scored because Eric Belanger’s blocked shot bounced right to him, and on the second goal Boyd Gordon goes down and deflects it just enough to get by #40. On the third Montreal tally, Varlamov has to make that save but Morrisonn deflected it up ever so slightly with his stick after Tomas Fleischmann, another Capital who has disappeared in the playoffs, went off on a bad line change. Even though Varly gave up a shaky third tally to the Habs, I still imagine he will be between the pipes for game seven on Wednesday for Boudreau.
At times during this series, Washington has struggled with the speed of the small Canadiens forwards, particularly Cammalleri (five goals). Morrisonn, who missed the last two games due injury, returned tonight but he looked to have lost a step. He took a costly cross checking penalty that led to the first Montreal goal and he was on the ice for the second and third ones, as well. If #26 is trying to play with an injury that slows him down then I have to believe it would better for Washington to scratch him and go with Tyler Sloan or call up Karl Alzner from Hershey (John Erskine is likely not a good match either for the speed of the Canadiens). Tom Poti, who played superb in the first five games, appeared to take a puck to the face at the end of the second period and never returned so Washington could need to put two new lefties in for game seven on the blue line.
Judging by Boudreau’s post game quotes though, it doesn’t appear that he’ll make many lineup changes, but he has a day or so to figure that out. When you get 54 shots on goal you are doing something right so it is not like Montreal is carrying the play, but the Habs are scoring first and then riding their hot goaltender. It will now be up to Washington’s crowd to help spark the Capitals to an early lead and turn the Verizon Center into the dominating place it was for the Caps during the regular season. The truth is, the Caps are 2-1 on the road and should have already locked this series up if they had any kind of energy and performance at home. Washington is 1-2 at the Phone Booth with the one win coming due to a great third period rally. The pressure is squarely on the guys in the red, white, and blue to get it done and right or wrong, Ovechkin is going to be the guy with the most heat on him. It is time for the Great #8 to find a way to get his squad playing the best they have all season, because it looks like it will take that type of effort to beat Halak.