Habs - Caps Episode 6: The Canadiens Strike Back; PK Called up

It took five games, but Jacques Martin finally started to look like someone who's coached over 1250 games in the NHL (including 85 playoff games).

Yes, I've been a little hard on Martin in my recent blogs, I think a lot of us have been, even going as far as proclaiming that I wanted him fired once this season was over. To be honest, that may still hold true. But regardless of what I (and many others) said last week, J-Mart deserves as much credit as the team on the ice for Friday's 2-1 win in Washington, which extended the Canadiens post-season by at least one more game, which will be played tonight at the Bell Centre.

For nearly 5 games, fans, bloggers and analysts alike where screaming for adjustments from Martin. The most evident was getting Marc-Andre Bergeron off the blueline, preferably out of the game completely. After averaging over 22 minutes a game in the first four games, J-Mart finally came to his senses and sat Bergeron right at the edge of the bench late in game 5. He finished the game with just under 11 minutes, and will likely find himself on a forward line tonight (more on that later), and his -8 in this series would justify it.

Martin also sat Roman Hamrlik, who clearly has little to no gas left on the tank. Hamrlik is a -5 in the series and has been involved in several turning points... for the Capitals. Hamrlik, who has averaged 18+ minutes in the series, played 12 on Friday and will likely have a reduced role unless there are any in-game injuries.

Finally, Martin made an in-game decision that literally won the team the game. Putting Travis Moen on a line with Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez may have been the best coaching decision Jacques Martin has made all season. While Gomez and Gionta have been amazing, they clearly needed some size and grit to complement their hard work and talent, and Moen offered that on Friday. He was rewarded with a goal, the game winner, and Gionta and Gomez took control of the game, playing a combined 50 minutes over the course of the game, with another 18 from Moen.

Naturally, a lot of the credit for Friday's win needs to go to the players - Gomez and Gionta with Moen, as mentioned above. Mike Cammalleri for scoring the Canadiens first goal, his 3rd goals team-leading 7th point of the series. Ryan O'Byrne for playing inspired hockey after being out of it for a few weeks. Hal Gill, Josh Gorges, and Andrei Markov for carrying the load where Bergeron and Hamrlik couldn't, and playing over 25 minutes each to seal the deal defensively for the Canadiens.

And last but certainly not least, Jaroslav Halak, for holding the fort, making 37 saves and stealing the game from the Capitals.

A lot of people have just loved to regurgitate a single stat throughout this series - that the Capitals have scored over 100 goals more than the Habs this season. On Friday night, all the Canadiens needed was one more than the Caps, and all the Caps could muster was a single goal. Halak, the defense, and Martin's coaching strategies finally paid off and finally proved that the Canadiens CAN shut down the Capitals.

Most people, myself included, were fairly certain that we would be talking about what's stuck in the back of Mike Cammalleri's locker today, not whether or not he'll score his 4th game of the series tonight. And while I tried to be cautiously optimistic, considering Washington's history with 7 game series and 3-1 leads, not to mention how the Canadiens have played so far, you couldn't help but feel like it was the end of the line for the Canadiens.

And frankly, if the Habs had lost, my itchy bearded face would have thanked them for it. Unfortunately for my skin, I can't shave just yet, or even trim the damn thing, as we have to get ready for what's sure to be another exciting encounter, as the Canadiens and Capitals prepare for game 6.

SAY IT WITH ME...

... I will NOT hype up PK Subban like I did Carey Price.

I will NOT hype up PK Subban like I did Guillaume Latendresse.

One more time...

I WILL NOT HYPE UP PK SUBBAN LIKE I DID CAREY PRICE AND GUILLAUME LATENDRESSE.

This city seems to have a problem with allowing young, exciting players develop properly while going through all the minor league systems and learning the ropes. So far, in the case of defenseman PK Subban, both the fans and media have been relatively good.

PK finished his OHL career, as he should have. He spent all but 2 games of this season in the AHL, as he should have. He finished the first round of the Bulldogs series (a 6 game series over the Manitoba Moose, which wrapped up last night with a Bulldogs win), as he should have.

Now, with just about everything on the line, and the Dogs on a mini-break before they start their second round series, Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin have decided to give young Subban a shot with the big team, calling him up as an insurance policy for tonight's game.

A big fear that a lot of us have is that a few irrational people will either give PK false hope if he plays tonight, or chew him up and spit him out if he doesn't have the best game. A lot of things have already been said about Subban, and the media and fans alike have come way to close to proclaiming Subban the next superstar or savior of this franchise, like they have with a few players in recent times.

The fans in this city should definitely be excited about Subban, and what he will bring to the Canadiens in the coming years. But they also have to realize and accept that Subban may not be a superstar, simply a good player. Whether it starts tonight in game 6 or not, we can only hope that these fans will take it one game at a time with Subban and allow him to develop as he should.

Habs Inside/Out is reporting that Subban will be a game time decision, based on the health of defenseman Jaroslav Spacek. If Spacek can't go, Subban will draw into the line-up, and I'd expect him to play with Roman Hamrlik. The tandems of O'Byrne/Markov and Gill/Gorges will likely remain intact, and if Jacques Martin has any common sense left in him, after using a lot of it in game 5, he will throw Bergeron back on the 4th line and give him powerplay time.

Incidentally, the Canadiens used their final call-up of the season on Subban, so you have to wonder whether they were waiting for the Bulldogs to finish to bring him up specifically. You also have to wonder if he'll be back down for the Bulldogs second round series later this week, regardless of how he plays.

But before those questions can be answered, there is a game tonight, one that the Canadiens simply HAVE to win, for reasons that extend beyond this very series, and the possibility that it could go to a game 7 on Wednesday.

THE LAW OF AVERAGES

The Law of Average is a layman's term which is defined as ''The principle holding that probability will influence all occurrences in the long term.'' The most common example of this principle is that if it rains for several days straight, you're bound to get a sunny day eventually.

The Canadiens can only hope this same principle will apply to them, seeing as they have not won a playoff game at the Bell Centre since the first round of the 2008 playoffs, in other words, 6 games.

This principle would imply that they're due for a win. The odds are, however, stacked against them, and it will be a tough battle along the way. Bruce Boudreau's Capitals will be angry after losing game 5 by only a single goal, and they will be angry that a too many men call might have even cost them the game-tying goal in the final minutes. Having won the first two games at the Bell Centre, and being only a win away from a second round berth, they will be motivated.

The Canadiens are going to need to play a rock solid game with no mistakes if they're going to win win. That means no shorthanded goals against, as few penalties as possible, and capitalizing (no pun intended) in most of your good chances.

Looking at how this series has gone so far, it's definitely a tough one to predict. Games one through five have ranged from barnburners, to goaltending duels to trap-tacular spectacles. Habs fans can only hope for a solid effort from their team and a lot of pressure on Semyon Varlamov.

Just like it was asked on Friday... tomorrow morning, will we be talking about game 7, or will be searching through the lockers of the Bell Centre, looking for an answer to another first round loss?

The game's at 7PM tonight, with festivities around the Bell Centre starting at 4.

Enjoy the game, and win or loss, we'll have plenty of coverage for you throughout the week!

Prax
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