With all the talk the past few days and all of the supposed controversies between Plekanec and Theodore, all of the question marks surrounding goaltending and all of the pundits—this one included—giving the Habs no chance in this series, the Canadiens decided to shake things up a bit by winning Game One versus the Capitals.
The Caps came out flying in the first period and shelled Jaroslav Halak for 19 shots. However, Halak held the fort until the Habs could get their legs under them.
After weathering the Capitals' storm, the Habs came to life and actually started to push back during the second period. The result was a 2-2 game that was, fittingly, ended by Tomas Plekanec in overtime to give the Habs the 1-0 series lead.
The story, or should I say stories, of the game were the Capitals getting 47 shots on goal with Halak saving all but two and Alexander Ovechkin firing none of them. That's right; the Habs played an excellent team defense and shut down Ovechkin in the process.
The Canadiens got goals from Scott Gomez, Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec, while the Caps got scoring from Joe Corvo and Nicklas Backstrom.
Final score: Habs 3 - Caps 2 (OT)
1. For all the question marks, Halak brought his A-game.
What question marks, you might ask? Well, while Halak was as constant as a metronome, throughout the season, he looked a little shaky in his last few games of the season. So much so, that some people were questioning how he would play in the playoffs.
Well, last night Halak showed that his shaky play over the last three games was a mere aberration. This guy is for real.
In stopping 45 of 47 shots last night, Halak pushed his record when facing 35 or more shots against, to 10-1 this year.
After stopping 19 shots in a first period where the Habs weren't even in the same rink as the Caps, Halak was wholly responsible for the Habs win last night. Without him, this game was over in the first frame.
2. Jaroslav Spacek played one for the ages.
Clearly tasked with being "the" guy to shadow Ovechkin, Spacek played his best game of the season.
With 19:51 of ice time, Spacek was not the most used Canadiens defenseman—Andrei Markov was at 27:38 of ice time—but he was arguably the most effective.
Time and again he was on ice taking away Ovechkin‘s time and space, making great first passes and even better defensive plays.
His best play came as he completely neutralized a Caps 3-on-1 break in overtime. A few minutes later the puck went the other way for the winning goal.
3. Gomer is a gamer
Along with Travis Moen, Brian Gionta, and Hal Gill, Scott Gomez—all of whom have Stanley Cup rings—pushed his game up to another level last night. It is in the playoffs that we get to finally see why Bob Gainey signed many of the players he did last summer.
Gomez was brought on board from his two Stanley Cup victories. That is invaluable experience that can be used on the ice and in the dressing room to calm younger players.
Last night, Gomez was the sparkplug in tying the game for the Habs, as he weaved beautifully through the neutral zone to setup a give and go with Gionta for the tying goal.
If he keeps playing like he did last night, the Canadiens should be able to continue competing with the Caps.
4. The Habs best players were their best players last night.
Looking at the score sheet, the Canadiens got goals from Gomez, Cammalleri, and Plekanec with assists from Markov, Andrei Kostitsyn, Gionta, Pouliot, and Spacek.
That is pretty much all of the Habs top players contributing on the scoreboard and exactly what the Habs need in order to compete with the Caps.
A very important point that can be easily overlooked from last night's game was the Michael Cammalleri scored his first goal since coming back from injury.
You could see a much more relaxed Cammalleri in the post game interviews and that is a good thing for the Habs. Cammalleri is sniper and when he is scoring they tend to go in in bunches.
5. Team defense rules the day
While Spacek might have been the most prominent figure in shutting down Ovechkin, the reality is that the Habs stuck to a strict team defense plan and it worked.
Every time Ovechkin was on the ice, all five Habs players were aware of his presence and they worked as a unit to shut him down. Ovechkin was repeatedly frustrated as he had no time or space to fire shots or make moves. The result was zero shots on goal by Ovie and a 3-2 Habs win.
Look Out Ahead!
While the Habs ultimately won the game and likely gained some confidence from the victory, I caution fans from getting too far ahead of themselves.
Keep in mind that without Halak stopping 18 shots in the first period, this game could have been out of reach early.
I fully expect the Caps to adjust their game in order to get more room for Ovechkin. Moreover, I fully expect a pissed-off Alex Ovechkin to take his game to another level on Saturday night—he will simply not be held shotless two games in a row.
I wonder if they Caps will switch to a dump and chase style and try to create offense off of the cycle instead of the rush, next game. While that might sound counter-intuitive, the cycle style is one the Habs have a tough time defending against while the rush-style is one that works better for their smaller players.
The Habs take their 1-0 series lead into Saturday night's second game in Washington. Conventional wisdom would have us believing that the Caps will be hungry for revenge and will decimate the Canadiens on Saturday night.
While that is quite possible, what if the Canadiens win again? Can you imagine them holding a 2-0 series lead coming back to the raucous climes of the Bell Centre?
I dare not think such a thought.
Please remember, Habs addicts, that one game is far from a series and while it is reason to be happy, there is a long road ahead.
One game at a time people. One game at a time.
So by all means bask in the victory, just don’t let it get to your head.
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