This was without a doubt the biggest upset of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year. President’s Trophy Winners, the Washington Capitals took on a team that barely made it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens. Many, including myself, expected the Washington Capitals to just pick apart the Montreal Canadiens and they did, to a point.
After Game 2 in the series, Washington found their mojo. They tied up the series at 1 game a piece and came back the next game with the fire in their eyes. They managed to take a 3-1 series lead on Montreal thanks to some great play from the hockey team, little did they know this series was far from over.
In Game 5 Ovechkin, at the start of the game came as if he was ready to go on a mini vacation (because the Caps would knock off the Habs), but the Capitals would not hold up their part. The Caps lost that hockey game and whether they knew it at the time or not, they would be going on vacation soon, permanently.
Montreal went on to win the 6th game in the series to tie it up at 3 games each. So just like that you go from being up 3-1 to 3-3. What happened? Well, I’ll fill you in on that later. The point is the series was now tied and the Capitals knew if they didn’t get the win in Game 7 they would be in store for some real heat.
So this is what it came down to, Game 7, somewhere no one expected these two teams to be (most expected a quick series win from the Capitals, for obvious reasons). The puck dropped and the pressure was on. The Capitals got some great scoring chances early on, but it was Montreal who scored near the end of the 1st period. They took the 1-0 and gave the Washington Capitals fans some uneasy looks.
The 2nd period would go scoreless, so we would go into the 3rd period with the score still 1-0 for the Canadiens.
That lead wouldn’t hold up for long though as Ovechkin put one past Halak to tie up the game! Or so we thought. Apparently there was goaltender interference on the part of Mike Knuble so the waived the goal off. It was a terrible call in my opinion. This kind of thing happens so much and it’s rarely called and you just decide to call this one? Worst part is there was barely any contact on Mike Knuble’s part.
So with that goal taken away, the score remained 1-0 for the Montreal Canadiens. Nearing the end of the third period, the score remained 1-0, but wait a minute. Some bad puck handling on Washington’s part resulted in Dominic Moore ending up with the puck and making the score 2-0 for the Canadiens. Hope seemed lost for the Capitals and their fans, but they still decided to take a crack at the tie.
They would get closer to the tie when they cut the lead to 2-1. Brooks Laich put the puck home from his knees to give the Capitals fans a sigh of relief, but the pressure was still on. They still needed one more goal to get the tie game. Despite a great opportunity for Chimera, the Capitals did not get the job done. The Montreal Canadiens pulled off the huge upset knocking off the number 1 team in the entire National Hockey League!
How did they do it? Well, let me explain a bit.
Although most will say that Jaroslav Halak was the key to Montreal’s success, that is not the case at all. The main key to Montreal’s success, shot blocking. In this series the Montreal Canadiens blocked a total of 182 Washington Capitals shots. Those are incredible numbers. Considering how many shots guys like Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, etc. take this is huge on their part. A pattern I noticed a lot in this series…
Capitals have the puck, pass, blocked by the Canadiens.
It happened a lot and it resulted in puck time for the Canadiens which just increases their possible goals total.
Now I’m not going to deny that Jaroslav Halak had an impact on the win too. Halak was out of gas at one point, which resulted in Montreal putting Carey Price in net for the team. They suspected they’d lose the hockey game (which they did), but they also expected it to help the in the long run (again, it did). Halak came back fresh and played some superb goaltending to help the Canadiens get through to the next round. Still some of the shots that were being shot at him weren’t too difficult saves. Once again referring back to the Montreal defense.
Another thing that helped the demise of the Capitals was holding back. After the 3-1 lead they just slowed down the play, the determination and so much more. They just got too comfortable with the lead they had on the Canadiens, which would result in a loss for the Capitals in the end. That’s why you can never take things too lightly.
Alexander Ovehckin was becoming too predictable down the line. The simple come in from the left side and shoot tactic of Ovechkin was getting way too noticeable. Montreal easily caught on and shut it down. Ovechkin did have 5 goals in the playoff series, which isn’t too bad, but what he was doing just wasn’t working in the end. If you’re always going to be coming into the offensive zone the same way, every single time, people will start to notice and exploit it.
Lastly, it’s time to point the finger at the man between the pipes, Semyon Varlamov. Jose Theodore was not the playoff goalie that Washington needed, he proved that early on. Varlamov would soon show us the same thing. He was weak at times and it proved costly. He did not have that serious goaltending presence that guys like Ryan Miller, Miikka Kiprusoff, Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur and others have when between the pipes. He choked at key parts of the hockey game which would only add to the Capitals issues in the series. Last year this guy was beastly at times, this year, not even close.
In the end these were the big things that killed the Washington Capitals. Shot blocking, Halak, lack of effort, predictability, and weak goaltending all add up to the Capitals getting kicked out of the playoffs. In an interview Bruce Boudreau said that he really didn’t see this coming. He said that he thought the Capitals had a great chance for a Stanley Cup this year and I can’t disagree, but I guess destiny didn’t feel the same way.
Oh well, there’s always next year. Until then this fan will be praying for Detroit vs. Pittsburgh Volume 3.
This article was originally posted on The Sports Dossier under the name "The Reasons For Washington Capitals Surprising First Round Exit." Check out more great pieces from our talented staff of writers.
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