posted by Rocket
It's a few hours before game time, and I'm filled with anticipation about tonight. Like many fans, I'm wondering what to expect.
Washington is a team loaded with offensive talent, yet so far, we haven't heard much from Mike Green, Alexander Semin, and the potent Capitals' power-play.
Semin has 36 shots and no goals. Green hasn't scored either. Washington is 1-for-31 with the man advantage.
Can the Montreal Canadiens pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent playoff history? I can't allow myself to think about it.
The game will take place in Washington, where the Capitals only lost five times all season. Yet, in this series, the Canadiens have won two of three in D.C., and led 4-to-1 in the game they lost. Could they disappoint "Rock the Red" fans one more time?
"We've got to play one game in Washington and here we go," said Mike Cammalleri. "They're the team that is supposed to win, and we're the underdog. We get to go and play a game in Washington, and we're excited about it."
Goaltending has been the topic of conversation for the past day or so, and rightly so, given Jaroslav Halak's career performance in Game Six. But the difference so far in the series is the Canadiens' commitment to team defense and opportunistic scoring.
The Canadiens appear a confident group going into this game.
They genuinely seem to like playing together. Bob Gainey deserves a great deal of credit for assembling a group with good chemistry and leadership skills. It seems the play of the Habs has allowed self-doubt to creep back into the minds of the Capitals' players.
“I think we just go and do what we do. I don’t think there will be too many changes at all,” Bruce Boudreau said. “We have no choice. We have to wipe the slate clean. If you start thinking and start letting him get inside your head from what has happened in the past, then you are in trouble before you start. Everyone starts fresh and you have to take a deep breath and come back at him.”
On the surface, that should make the Canadiens the more relaxed team.
"They're supposed to win, right? Every one of you guys picked them to win," said Cammalleri. "I don't think they wanted to play a Game Seven when they were up three games to one. They can't be happy with that. They didn't want to come here, and they didn't want to have to go back home. At the same time, if you ask them, they have all the confidence in the world they're going to prevail. It is what it is."
But this is Game Seven, and nerves will be affecting each player. It is one reason it was so important to Gainey to add players who have been through this before.
So, how can the Canadiens win one more game in Washington?
This one is obvious.
The Habs must keep doing what they have been doing: blocking shots, clearing the front of the net, taking away cross-ice feeds, limiting second-chance opportunities.
The Capitals are averaging almost 42 shots per game. It will be difficult to withstand another onslaught of 40-50 shots.
The Habs have been able to get a goal or two in the first 10 minutes of the game and then defend against Washington. They certainly don't want to have to open up to play from behind. An early lead will also help to quiet the crowd and cause the Capitals to be even more unnerved.
Shots on Goal
The Canadiens have to get more shots on goal and traffic in front.
All of the Canadiens' goals in Game Five and Game Six were from the perimeter. They can't count on another shaky performance from Semyon Varlamov.
The Canadiens have been winning this battle in the series but will need to do it one more time. Much has been made of the Capitals' ineffectiveness on the power-play in part because of exceptional work by the Habs' penalty-killers.
The Capitals are averaging nine shots per game with the man advantage but have only scored once.
There are signs that Washington's power-play is improving, having recorded 28 shots in the past two games. That's just four shy of the total number of shots taken by the Canadiens' power-play in the entire series.
Washington dominated the face-off dot early on in the series in large part because of the excellent work by Eric Belanger. The Canadiens have been more even in recent games, which is one key to special teams' success.
Travis Moen and Ryan O'Byrne lead the Canadiens in hits in the playoffs.
Remarkably, O'Byrne tops the list yet has only appeared in three of the six games.
Dominic Moore is also playing a physical game. Matt Bradley, Alex Ovechkin, and Mike Green lead the list for the Capitals.
The Canadiens did a good job matching the Capitals physicality in Game Six. They will have to do so again tonight.
We've witnessed how on-ice and coaching errors by the Canadiens have ended up in the back of their net. Given the small margin for victory, the Habs simply have to limit mistakes to have a chance to win.
This component of the series has received the most focus since Game Six.
Is Halak in the heads of the Washington shooters? It seems Boudreau is not yet ready to give the Slovak goaltender too much credit.
“We threw 54 shots at him. He was pretty good,” Boudreau said. “We got great looks and we missed chances, but how much is him and how much is us missing? I think it is more him than us.”
Does Boudreau have a solution for Halak?
“You want to take your stick and hit him over the head with it,” Boudreau said. “But you can’t do that.”
But perhaps the coach provided a peek into the Capitals' game plan with his next comment.
"Sometimes goalies get in a zone where nothing is going to beat them, and he's in that zone. Everything he saw he was going to stop," said Boudreau after Game Six.
On the surface, it was another compliment from the Washington coach to his opposition. But, it also provided a clue how the Capitals will try to beat Halak in Game Seven.
They will put traffic in front of the net so Halak can't see as well. Cue Scott Walker. He'll play in place of Tomas Fleischmann and likes to go to crease.
Will Washington get a boost from adding an AHL player to their lineup similarly to the insertion of P.K. Subban in Monday's game?
Karl Alzner, from the Hershey Bears, will play for the injured Tom Poti, out of the lineup with a broken orbital bone.
Poti was the best Washington defense-man of the series, leading the team with a plus-9 rating.
Alzner is a physical, stay-at-home defense-man, a good shot-blocker and will be paired with John Carlson.
During the past two days, some have been fond of summoning the ghosts of past greats to create a false sense of invincibility. This game won't be won on exaggerated comparisons. It will be hard work and a team effort.
The to-do list presented above is substantial but necessary if the Canadiens want to move on to the second round of the playoffs. Sticking to it for 60 minutes will yield a prize that few of us expected.
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.