Montreal Canadiens-Washington Capitals: Jaroslav Halak Leads Habs Upset

Kamal PanesarCorrespondent IApril 29, 2010!  What an incredible game.  And by incredible, I mean stomach-churning, stress-inducing, hair-losing, nail-biting hockey.

In defeating the Washington Capitals 2-1 in Game Seven last night, the Montreal Canadiens became the first No. 8 seed to come back from a 3-1 series deficit against a No. 1 seed since the NHL adopted the current playoff format in 1994.

For a franchise that owns the record books I think it is fitting that they add this achievement to their already full mantle of accolades.

As we have become used to in this series, the Canadiens took the lead early and Jaroslav Halak shut the door the rest of the way to earn the win.

The Caps came close to scoring first, as snake-bitten Alexander Semin rang the puck off of the cross bar on a 3-on-1 early in the first. Had that goal gone in the Caps would have been off to the races and likely would have won the game.

The fact that it didn't go in—and that the Caps had a goal called back early in the second period for goaltender interference—were microcosms of the entire series for the Caps.

For whatever reason, they never played a full 60 minutes, throughout the series, and it came back to bite them in the butts.

TSN's Pierre McGuire put it the best when he said, last night, that a system won out over skill.

The Canadiens got goals from Marc-Andre Bergeron on the power play and Dominic Moore, and the Caps lone goal was scored by Brooks Laich.

Final score: Habs 2 - Caps 1. Canadiens win the best-of-seven series 4-3.

Game Notes

1. What more is there to say about Jaroslav Halak?

By shopping 41 shots last night, Halak pushed his record when facing 40 or more shots to 10-0-1 this year.  That is a staggering stat that shows that this is a man who thrives off of being busy in the crease.

Last night, as he has done on so many nights this season and during this series, Halak was again the games first star as he put on a goaltending clinic in again limiting the potent Caps offense to 1 goal against.

In case you’re counting, Halak has had 134 shots against over the last three games and has let in three goals for a scintillating .977 save percentage.

If there was any doubt before this series allow me to dispel it.  Jaroslav Halak has arrived as a legitimate No.1 in the league.

2. After Halak, Hal Gill and Josh Gorges are the second and third stars of this series.

Again last night, the duo of Gill and Gorges completely shut down the Caps offense for large stretches of the game.  Acting as the Habs' No. 1 defensive penalty killing unit, the stopped all three Washington power plays last night—the Caps pp finished the series 1-for-33—and both were shot blocking machines.

Hal Gill now leads all players in the playoffs for shots blocked with more than 30.

While Halak was spectacular again last night, the real story was the incredibly hermetic Canadiens defensive system and the number of blocked shots—the Habs lead the league in the playoffs with 117.  To keep that in perspective, the next closest team is the Ottawa Senators with 77 blocked shots.

3. The fourth line continues to contribute.

During the third period where the Caps threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Canadiens, the Habs' fourth line seemed like the only one that was able to keep the puck in the Caps zone for any extended period of time.

Lead by Dominic Moore and a suddenly resurgent Maxim Lapierre, they caused havoc for the Caps defenders by using their speed and effective cycle.

The winning goal was scored by Dominic Moore as Lapierre knocked his man off of the puck to send Moore in alone who tucked the puck under Varlamov's arm to make it a 2-0 game.  Good thing too, because the Caps scored less than a minute later with 2:16 to play in the game.

4. A team effort.

As unbelievable as this historic comeback is for the Montreal Canadiens, it was achieved by sticking to a system and working together.  It is interesting to hear the players' comments and to see them coming together as a group.

There is nothing like a little adversity to either bring a team together or tear them apart, and it is during those times that you really see what kind of group you have.

Whatever happens for the rest of the playoffs, the Habs have the hockey world that they are a much better group than most people, myself included, thought.

Look out ahead!

In eliminating the Capitals last night, the Habs earned the right to play the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins—starting tomorrow night—in round two of the 2010 playoffs.

Like with the Capitals, the Canadiens matchup surprisingly well against the Pens due to their focus on skill.  The Habs tend to play better against skill-based teams rather than brute-based teams.

That being said, the Pens are a much more balanced team than the Caps and have excellent goaltending so this will definitely be another uphill battle for Les Habitants.

Next Game

There's no rest for the wicked as the Habs fly to Pittsburgh to start round two on Friday at 7 pm EST.  Game Two will be played on Sunday at 2 pm EST.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Habs lose Game One on Friday as it is very difficult to switch from focusing on Ovechkin and co. to Crosby and co. with only one day in between.  That being said, if Halak continues to play the way he has played through the last three games of the Caps series, who the heck knows what can happen!

So what do you think will happen on Friday and in the series against the Pens?  Do that Habs have a chance?  Does their Cinderella run end with the Pens?

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