Capitals-Canadiens: Habs Self-Destruct, Handing Caps Series Lead
Montreal 1 Washington 5 (Bell Centre)
posted by Rocket
"A fool flatters himself, a wise man flatters the fool." ~ Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau was in a good mood after the game. He had every reason to be with his Capitals cruising to a Game Three victory. They chased Jaroslav Halak, regained home-ice advantage, and sent disappointed Canadiens fans home early.
Boudreau was frank about his team's power play, saying, "We suck," but then doled out a series of compliments. He acknowledged the Capitals' strong play on the road, called the Bell Centre crowd "crazy good," but saved the most generous words for his opposing number.
"They've got one of the smartest, if not the smartest, coach in the NHL," said Boudreau, who seems to be a wise fellow.
No doubt that the Washington coach appreciated Jacques Martin's dizzying intellect, which determined that Marc-Andre Bergeron was the defense partner needed by Andrei Markov who would play more than 20 minutes instead of Ryan O'Byrne.
On the surface, O'Byrne has been solid all season paired with Markov, leads the defensive corps in hits for the season by a wide margin, and at 6'6" can effectively clear big forwards from the front of the goal. You may have noticed that Washington has a few of those.
Boudreau was so impressed that he seemingly honored Martin's deployment of Bergeron by having his players dump the puck to the defenseman's side of the ice at every opportunity.
I know what you're thinking. Bergeron looked awful on the second, third, and fifth goals by the Capitals and finished the night at minus-three. It's true, that sounds bad. We must be missing something. There's a greater purpose, perhaps.
Monsieur Mensa thought it was a good idea to rush Glen Metropolit back into the lineup and chose to sit Sergei Kostitsyn. When Metropolit was injured on March 27, it was stated that his separated shoulder would need six to eight weeks to heal. Now that estimate appeared to be accurate, as Metropolit didn't win a face-off tonight, lagged behind the play, and played just over five minutes. But what do we know?
Metropolit's linemate Mathieu Darche was on the ice for 2:22 without recording a shot or a hit and was a minus-one. Sergei Kostitsyn, with five Molson Cup star selections in the month of March, was deemed to be press box-worthy.
Undoubtedly, many of you are saying those lineup choices don't make any sense. Remember, we are in the presence of a genius. How can we be expected to understand?
From his perspective, the Canadiens' scholarly coach thought that his team played their best period of the series in the first. The Habs outshot the Capitals and led in scoring chances 7-to-4. Martin felt that the game unraveled during a 12-minute stretch in the second period.
Not to contradict our resident sage, but the Canadiens came into this game with a very fragile psyche after the third-period meltdown in Game Two. The seeds for tonight loss were sown by giving up five goals in just over a period of play in Washington.
It didn't take much for doubt to be ignited when the Capitals scored on a second period short-handed goal by Boyd Gordon. The mettle of the Habs was shattered by giving up two more goals that resulted from poor defensive play and sub-average goaltending.
Jaroslav Halak left the game having surrendered three goals on 13 shots. In the last two-and-a-half periods, he has given up eight goals on 30 shots. Halak seems to have lost his confidence, winning only one of his last six starts, with all of them being very meaningful games.
Trailing 3-0 in the second period, the broken and frustrated Canadiens lost their composure. They took penalties, including a 10-minute misconduct by Scott Gomez. Few in the Bell Centre held their breath for a Capitals-like comeback.
In the third period, with the Canadiens threatening to regain momentum, Boudreau called a timeout to refocus Washington. I'm sure that the gifted coach Martin would have done the same—although it was curious that Martin didn't instruct his players to get a whistle early in the third period power play so that Gomez could exited the penalty box and joined them.
I'm sure that he had a good reason.
The two teams played like they were separated by 33 points in the regular season standings. Washington has some wind in its sails and seems happy with the way the series is unfolding. The Canadiens will have a hard time putting Jack back in the box to replicate the tone and performance of Game One.
Will Coach Martin make any changes for Game Four? Far be it from me to be able to read the thoughts of a mastermind, but Martin didn't seem to give his No. 1 goaltender a ringing endorsement: "Halak played a strong first game and he had a good first period tonight."
As is custom, Dr. Martin will keep us guessing until Wednesday.
Rocket's three stars
1. Brooks Laich
2. Eric Fehr
3. Matt Bradley
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.
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