Montreal 2 Washington 1 (Verizon Center)
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. Our revels now are ended. Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!" —General Chang (assisted by William Shakespeare)
It was one last game to decide the first round playoff series between "David" and "Goliath." As the two teams stepped onto the ice before the first face-off, they were greeted by loudspeakers blaring "Nothing Else Matters" (by Metallica). Indeed.
Every shift would be a battle.
When time expired, it was the visiting team in white that was battered and bruised. But they had withstood the full arsenal of the most potent offense in the NHL, and came out on top.
Brian Gionta managed a full smile despite a split lip, courtesy of a double forearm by Shaone Morrisonn that went uncalled in the third period. Dominic Moore also had a facial wound that was leaking into his playoff facial hair.
"Blood in the beard. Part of the playoff portrait, isn't it?" asked Moore.
This was a very impressive performance and a record-setting series win by a team with heart, all pulling in the same direction. It was the first time that a No. 8 seed beat a No. 1 seed after trailing three games to one.
Jaroslav Halak had an excellent game and will garner most of the headlines, with some justification. But at least half of the credit for the win should go to team defense. They did an excellent job keeping opposition shooters to the perimeter and clearing rebounds. Around Halak, his teammates created Fortress Habs.
“Obviously, Jaro wins us that last game, hands down by himself, but tonight I think we all came together and worked hard together,” said Brian Gionta.
Halak was able to see most every shot and made 41 saves. Canadiens' defenders blocked 41 shots.
"If the guys didn't block the shots, I would give up more goals," said Halak.
So let's give kudos to players that should be sharing the spotlight.
Hal Gill, Ryan O'Byrne, and Andrei Markov combined to block 17 shots. O'Byrne played almost 20 minutes and led the team in hits. Markov and Gill logged 25:12 and 23:35 respectively.
Josh Gorges was hammered on almost every shift by forechecking Washington forwards but stood tall and effectively shut down Alex Ovechkin.
Brian Gionta is a true playoff warrior. He played more than 24 minutes, and was on the ice for every critical situation.
Scott Gomez was 50 percent on face-offs and had one assist. Gomez set up the first Canadiens goal with a perfect no-look pass after drawing three defenders his way.
Tom Pyatt delivered 10 quality minutes, blocking more shots than any other forward.
The above-mentioned seven players are members of the Canadiens' superb penalty-killing unit. They only allowed one goal on 33 opportunities to the best power-play in the regular season. The Capitals' 3 percent success rate on the power-play is the lowest for any team with at least 30 opportunities since statistics were kept.
It is a remarkable feat against the league's top-rated power-play and a major reason that the Habs won the series.
"We were number one overall in the regular season and we can't even score a goal on the power play against Montreal," said Nicklas Backstrom. "That's really bad."
Some have questioned the value of giving up a second-round draft choice for Dominic Moore. I found myself being envious of the face-off ability of Washington's Eric Belanger (obtained at the deadline for the same price as Moore). But nobody can deny the clutch contribution of tonight's series-winning goal by Moore, a very smart hockey player.
Max Lapierre did not impress me in Game Six despite scoring. His two diving penalties made sure of that. Tonight was a different story. He played his best game of the series and was instrumental in facilitating the Canadiens' second goal.
Assistant coach Perry Pearn gave Marc-Andre Bergeron two early even strength shifts narrowly avoiding disastrous results. Ovechkin and Semin got two excellent scoring chances taking advantage of Bergeron mistakes. But limited to power-play duty, Bergeron did his job and scored his first goal. It was also the first goal by a Habs' defenseman in the series.
We assumed that the turning point in the series, negative to the Canadiens, was in Game Two, when Halak gave up five goals in 22 minutes and handed the Capitals their first win. After allowing three on 13 shots in Game Three, Halak was clearly rattled and was pulled.
But perhaps, it was a positive moment for the Habs. Halak spent the next game and a half on the bench regaining his focus before returning in Game Five. After the one period comeback in Game Two, perhaps Washington got a little overconfident believing that they could just turn on their offensive power at will. The Canadiens didn't allow that to happen again.
"I would have bet my house that they wouldn't have beaten us three games in a row," said Bruce Boudreau.
An alternate theory is that with the Canadiens trailing in the series 3-1, a self-described "frustrated and proud Canadiens' fan," Angry Sal delivered a frank message on behalf of all Habs' supporters that woke up the team and turned the series around.
Take your pick.
Whatever the turning point, it is clear that Washington has a collection of players with exceptional talent that could never quite come together. When the series was over, Ovechkin asked his team to stay on the ice for a season-ending stick salute to the fans. Only eight players joined the Capitals' captain. That says volumes about this team and perhaps his captaincy.
Much credit should go to Bob Gainey for assembling a Montreal team with good chemistry and who like playing together.
Mike Cammalleri provided a succinct description of their relationships, "We're a bunch of guys that care a lot and we want to keep playing hockey."
The Canadiens will keep playing as they begin the conference semi-finals against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday.
Rocket's three stars
1. The Montreal Canadiens
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.
Montreal 2 Washington 1 (Verizon Center)