Montreal Canadiens-Washington Capitals: Halak Leads Habs to Win Forcing Game Six

Kamal PanesarCorrespondent IApril 24, 2010

Habs win, Habs win!

OK, now that I got that out of the way, let me get to the nitty-gritty. Yes, the Montreal Canadiens beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 in Washington last night.

And yes, the game seemed to follow the same script as three out of the five games so far: the Habs came out with fire in their eyes and took an early lead. The Caps scored to bring the Caps back into it and pressed for the tie in the third.

This time, however, it was not to be for the Capitals, as the Habs' goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, stood on his head and kept the Caps off of the board.

The Capitals received a goal from Alexander Ovechkin (5), and the Habs responded with goals by Michael Cammalleri (3) and Travis Moen (1).

Final Score: Habs 2 - Caps 1. The Caps lead the series 3 - 2.

On to the game notes.

1. Halak, Halak, he's our man

As porous as Jaroslav Halak was during Game Two and Three—he let in nine goals over 88 minutes of play, on 50 shots against for an .820 save percentage—he was a beacon of strength last night versus the Caps.

From the drop of the puck, Halak made save after spectacular save to hold the lead for his team. Halak stopped 15 shots in the first period, 12 in the third, and 37 (out of 38) overall for a scintillating .974 save percentage.

Talk about a bounce back! As guess those three days off helped, as Halak looked out of gas during his last game. So does this mean that the two days off before Game Six on Monday will also do him well?

2. Jacques Martin, is that you?

Most of the criticism and blame for the Canadiens misgivings, over the last few days, have been focused on Jacques Martin.

Martin, for all his experience, has tended to be slow to adapt and generally speaking, has stuck to his system. As such, the Habs have been outcoached on far too many occasions this year.

Last night, however, Martin put on his best coaching effort of the season and playoffs, and it played a huge role in the win.

For starters, Coach Martin has Travis Moen on the second line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta and it paid dividends with Moen scoring his first of the playoffs and what would be the eventual game-winner.

In addition, he shortened his bench in the third period, when the Caps were pressing for the tie. Not only did he sit Marc-Andre Bergeron and Roman Hamrlik, but he shortened his forwards to three lines. This is something that Martin has been reticent to do very much this year but which is necessary at certain times in a game.

It just goes to show that if/when Martin chooses to do in-game adjustments, he can coach with the best of them. Let's hope he keeps it up!

3. Moen, and Gionta, and Gomez, oh my!

As mentioned above, Jacques Martin decided to start the game with Travis Moen on Gomez and Gionta's wing and it worked. Moen brought a much-needed physical element to that line and it served to provide much more room for Gomez and Gionta to ply their skills.

In addition, Moen was always driving to the net which created havoc for Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov and resulted in Moen picking up the Habs' second goal of the game.

It just goes to show how desperately the Habs need some jam on their top two lines.

4. Hal Gill is a playoff warrior

As much as Gill was maligned by the fans base for most of the season for being slow-footed, a turnover machine, always taking bad penalties, and generally being ineffective, he is shining at the most important time.

Since the beginning of the playoffs, Gill has been consistent and effective for the Habs. Whether taking away shooting lanes, blocking shots, or being a stalwart on the penalty kill, Gill has so far been one of the unsung heroes for the Habs.

Now we see why the Pens were unhappy to lose him to free agency.

5. Speaking on unsung heroes, Josh Gorges ain't bad either

Gill's defensive partner, Josh Gorges, has quietly been one of the Habs most consistent and effective defensemen all series long.

Last night, with Jaroslav Spacek out of the lineup, Gorges put in a yeoman's effort in helping to shutdown Ovechkin. The result was a team high 27:45 of ice time for Gorges and a 2-1 win for the Habs.

Look Out Ahead!

Like Pittsburgh losing to the Senators the night before, the Caps seemed a little bit like a team who was already looking ahead to the second round versus the Flyers.

I expect them to come out with a more voracious effort in Game Six in Montreal on Monday. The problem for the Caps, is that they might have lost their best chance at eliminating the Habs, last night, in the comfort of their home rink.

Now, they have to roll back into Montreal and try to fight off a Habs team who will be buoyed by their ravenous fans.

Yes, the Habs have lost the last six home playoff games they have played, but if they can buck that trend they will force a Game Seven and go back to Washington with momentum clearly on their side.

That is a big "if" as they still have to win the game. I am wondering if the Caps, who felt they were cruising in this series, now begin to have the first pangs of doubt. If so, this series could take an interesting turn on Monday night in Montreal.

Next Game

With two days off before Game Six in Montreal on Monday night, both teams will have a lot of time to think. For a Habs team where I am certain not everyone believed they could win before last night's game, the weekend could serve as a rallying point.

In addition, the two days rest should allow enough time for virus stricken Spacek to get better and back into the lineup. He will be joining a lineup that wakes up this morning feeling that they actually have a chance to force a Game Seven and maybe even win this series.

For the Caps, they will have time to think about the lost opportunity and to focus on closing things out Monday night in Montreal. I wonder if the loss will ring in their heads a little too long and if doubt will truly creep into that dressing room. If it does, the Habs might truly have a chance to win on Monday.

If not, then the Caps should be able to press to close out the series in Montreal.

Either way, this continues to be one of the most entertaining playoff series in a long time. So, enjoy the weekend, Habs addicts and, like the Habs, gather your strength for Monday.

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