Montreal 2 Washington 1 (Verizon Center)
posted by Rocket
"He who hesitates is lost." ~ Proverb
From the opening faceoff, won by Scott Gomez, the Canadiens were on the attack heading to the Capitals' net. It was as if they decided to use the CFL's backfield in motion rules. Eight seconds into the game and Brian Gionta had a scoring chance.
A minute and a half in, the Habs had their first goal. Mike Cammalleri scored on a quick snap shot from 40 feet out. The Canadiens had exactly the start they, as well as nervous fans had been hoping to see.
Jacques Martin substituted Travis Moen for the struggling Benoit Pouliot on the line with Gionta and Gomez. It paid early dividends with Moen putting a backhand past Semyon Varlamov. Gionta made a brilliant play behind the net to chip the puck in front despite being well covered by Washington defenders.
The Capitals' cockiness had been stripped away and the smallish Montreal forwards appered to grow an inch. Cammalleri, Gomez, Gionta and Plekanec had all contributed to the first two goals.
It was an superbly executed game plan to that point. I thought to myself, "please don't let these Canadiens sit on a two-goal lead." With almost 53 minutes left, they had to score again. They didn't.
Can you say nerve-racking?
To defend the lead, Martin turned part of his bench into front row spectator seating. Benoit Pouliot, Sergei Kostitsyn, Glen Metropolit, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Roman Hamrlik spent the majority of their third periods watching the game.
But to cause us even more heart palpitations, Martin was sure to put Hamrlik, on the power-play with less than two minutes left in the second period, and with the Canadiens protecting a one goal lead. I suppose that Martin believes in the three strike rule.
Fortunately, there were no short-handed goals given up tonight, but neither were there successes with the man advantage. The Habs were 0-for-6 on the power-play, and didn't even get a shot on goal on their first four opportunities. It was dreadful.
Despite the power-play being predictable, and lacking creativity, Martin stubbornly kept sending out the same group to play the point. Apparently, that would be too much tinkering for one game.
Bergeron was brutal on the power-play point. He casually retrieved pucks and was slow to initiate the breakout. There was little urgency when attempting to keep the puck in the offensive zone.
Strangely, this has become a series for the road team. The visiting team has scored first in every game. Washington won both games in Montreal. The Canadiens won games one and five in Washington and would have won game two with some decent goaltending.
Tonight the Habs got very good goaltending. Jaroslav Halak came into the game with a record of 1-2, with a goals against average of 4.06 and a save percentage of .887.
In his last start he looked fatigued and rattled. Not tonight. It was an outstanding bounce-back game for Halak with 37 saves.
While there were missed calls on both sides, it seemed that the hockey gods were shining on the Canadiens. It's hard to understand how the officials missed Bergeron's crude tooth extraction on Eric Belanger. It was downright baffling that the Habs had to serve only one penalty when two were called on the same stoppage.
Hal Gill and Ryan O'Byrne were the two best Canadiens' defensemen combining for eight blocked shots and five hits. Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges played well, both logging over 27 minutes.
Cammalleri, Gionta, Moen and Andrei Kostitsyn were standouts among the forwards.
It was a superb team effort by the Canadiens in a game that few expected them to win. But they should also realize that they dodged a bullet by not burying their chances to extend the lead, particularly on the power-play. Perhaps the obstinate coach turned tinkerer could make a few more adjustments for the next game.
The series returns to Montreal for game six on Monday night.
Rocket's three stars
1. Brian Gionta
2. Jaroslav Halak
3. Alexander Semin
Special mention: Hal Gill, Ryan O'Byrne, Mike Cammalleri, Travis Moen
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.
(photo credit: Getty)