Caught Short in the Long Run – The Montreal Canadiens completed an historic comeback with a 2-1 shaving of the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series at Verizon Center on Wednesday night.
In doing so, the Canadiens abruptly put an end to what was the best regular season in Capitals history. The Habs also became the first No. 8 seeded team in NHL history to stage a comeback from 3-1 down in a series against a No. 1 seeded team.
Longtime Caps fans have seen this horror show before. This marks the eighth time in franchise history that the Caps have failed to win a playoff series in which they led by two games. Four times they’ve coughed up a 3-1 series lead, and four times a 2-0 series lead.
“When you have a 3-1 lead in a series,” begins Caps right wing Mike Knuble, “you think there’s no way you’re going to drop three straight, especially two of those games at home. It’s the most disappointing for a team that is known for our goal scoring. The amount of offense that we can provide, to come up short and not get the goals in a timely manner when we have done it all year, it’s extremely disappointing for us.”
The Caps’ ill-timed three-game, postseason losing streak was its first since it lost three in a row to close out the season’s first half from Dec. 28-Jan. 2. Washington was 30-4-7 in the season’s second half, and the Capitals were 30-5-6 on home ice during the 2009-10 season. But the Habs authored three of their four series victories in the Caps’ house and Washington led for a total of 6:47 in the four games played at Verizon Center in the series.
Remember, this was a Capitals team that led at one point or another in nearly all of its first 30 games or so during the regular season.
“There wasn’t much I could tell them,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, when asked what he told his players. “I told them I felt exactly like they did. I thought we had a good chance to win the Stanley Cup this year. I would have bet my house that they wouldn’t have beat us three games in a row, and that we would have only scored three goals in almost 140 shots. But, I told them there was no sense in me saying anything right now because we all feel as low as we can possibly feel.”
The Capitals were stymied by the Montreal defense – the Habs blocked 182 shots in the seven games – and goaltender Jaroslav Halak. The Canadiens entered the postseason with the most experienced blueline corps of all of the 16 playoff entrants, in terms of combined regular season experience.
“I think that’s playoff hockey,” says Canadiens coach Jacques Martin. “I think it’s a commitment by the players. I think they know at this time of the year you’ve got to do everything in your power to win games. It means sometimes taking hits to make play, it means blocking shots, it means to be fully committed.”
Right from the start of the series, the Canadiens frustrated the Capitals. Washington dominated the first period of Game 1, outshooting the Habs by 19-7. But Montreal escaped the first 20 minutes of that game even at 1-1 on the scoreboard, and the Habs eventually slinked off with a 3-2 overtime win.
That first period of Game 1 was a glimpse of things to come. Washington led half of its 82 regular season games after the first frame, forging a 28-6-5 record in those games. But the Capitals were never able to go to the room with a lead after the first 20 minutes of any of the seven games in this set with the Habs.
While Montreal’s best players were its best players in the series, Washington’s vaunted and celebrated group of “Young Guns” had its ups and downs. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom accounted for nearly half (10 of 21) of the Caps’ goals in this series, but Mike Green and Alexander Semin were held without a goal.
“It’s a tough one,” says Boudreau. “All four of them were beyond remorse in the dressing room. What I am saying that for is because they cared and because they tried. No one tried as much as Alex [Ovechkin] and Nicky [Backstrom]. Sometimes you just don’t score goals – the other team takes it away. I give Montreal credit. They – the last two guys I mentioned - didn’t have success in the last game scoring, but they tried.”
Meanwhile, the Canadiens’ top six forwards accounted for 15 of their 20 goals in the series.
“It’s satisfying for our group, for our team, for our organization,” says a deservedly proud Martin. “I think the one thing about our organization this year. It was difficult to put a stamp or a pulse on it because of the number of injuries we had to deal with through the season, to keep people. We never really had a full team. I think we got better at the right time.
“I think you have to give a lot of credit to their [Capitals] organization. I’m sure it’s very disappointing, but they’re a great team. They will continue to be a great team when you look at their personnel and the people that they have here.”
No Offense – Washington led all NHL teams in regular season goals scored by a wide margin. The Caps tallied 45 more goals than second-place Vancouver. But the Caps limped through the final three games of the series – including two on home ice – by scoring exactly one goal in each of the three games.
During the entire 2009-10 regular season, the Caps were limited to one or less goals only three times all season, and not at all in the season’s second half. The last time the Caps scored one goal or less in three straight games was more than six years ago: Dec. 27-31, 2003.
Killed – Washington’s power play – the best in the league during the regular season with a 25.2% success rate – was non-existent during the playoffs. The Capitals went an almost unfathomable 1-for-33 (3%) with the extra man in this series. Including their final two regular season games, the Caps wound up the season on a 1-for-40 (2.5%) extra-man skid.
The Caps went 4-for-50 (8%) on the power play in 11 games against Montreal in 2009-10, including the postseason.
While the Caps scored one extra-man goal in the series, the Habs scored a power play goal in six of the seven games in the set.
Halaked – At one point during this series, the Capitals drove Halak from the net, convincing Canadiens’ bench boss Jacques Martin to start Carey Price in Game 4. The Caps dented Halak for eight goals on 40 shots from late in the second period of Game 2 to the middle of the second period of Game 3, when Martin hooked Halak in favor of Price.
Halak got the net back for Game 5, and he was all but unbeatable thereafter. Halak allowed exactly one goal in each of the last three games of the series, stopping 131 of the 134 shots (.978 save pct.) he faced from the Capitals in the process.
Economy – Montreal defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron scored the game’s first goal on a 4-on-3 power play in the final minute of the first period. He ended the night as the game’s No. 2 star, despite playing a total of just 4:06 on the night, none of it after the game’s second intermission.
Franchise First – For the first time in franchise history, the Caps dressed four homegrown, first-round defensemen in a Stanley Cup playoff game. The foursome – Green, Jeff Schultz, John Carlson and Karl Alzner – along with veterans Joe Corvo and Shaone Morrisonn limited the Habs’ attack to just 16 shots on goal for the game, but it was not enough to overcome the Capitals’ sudden and startling lack of offensive prowess.
Shooting Gallery – As they did all season, the Caps played the part of used car salesmen in the offensive zone, dealing in volume, volume, volume.
Washington fired 94 shots to Montreal’s 38 in Game 7. Only 42 of Washington’s shots were on goal; the Canadiens blocked a whopping 41, which was more than Montreal teed up on the entire night. The Caps also missed 11 shots.
In the final three games of the series, the Habs blocked 83 shots. The Canadiens had just 66 shots on goal of their own in the same three games.
Tell It To Someone Else – In the entirety of NHL history, the home team has won 80 of 131 (61%) Game Sevens. Washington hasn’t helped that rate; it is 1-3 in Game Sevens on home ice in the last three springs.
Washington is now 2-7 all-time in Game 7 situations, and they are 2-6 at home in Game Sevens.
First One – Veteran coach Martin chalked up the first Game 7 win of his career on Wednesday, raising his record in deciding series games to 1-4.
Happy Birthday – To ex-Caps blueliner and current radio color analyst Ken Sabourin, born on this day in 1966. And to short-term Caps defenseman and ex-NHL head coach Brad Shaw, born on this day in 1964.
1 - 0 MTL
2 - 0 MTL