Habs - Caps Episode 7: No More Star Wars References

YES! ANOTHER LIVE BLOG!

You knew this was coming. After the MAJOR successes of the lives blogs in games 4, 5 and 6, we're back for our 4th live blog of the series for tonight's game 7!

Steven Hindle from Hockeybuzz, Kamal Panesar from Habs Addict, Jeremy Scriven from Hockey Independent, and myself, of course, from The Checking Line, will be running the show yet again, providing our insight, sharing comments and taking questions as BOTH the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals try to close out the series once and for good tonight!

The list of panelists will be bigger and better than ever. There are plenty of names to confirm, and rest assured, I will update this post with them as Steven, the others, and I can confirm them, so make sure to check back here for all the details!

The chat starts with our pre-game coverage at 6:30PM EST, so make sure to be here for all the fun, and set your reminders below

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WESTERN PARALLELS

You have to wonder whether any players from the Montreal Canadiens were watching last night's game 7 between the Detroit Red Wings and the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes, kind of an underdog, despite being the higher seed and having the more consistent series, were home to the Red Wings, who surged late in the season after spending a good chunk of it outside of a playoff spot, and everything was on the line. The winner of this game would advance to the second round to play the San Jose Sharks. For the loser, nothing, not even a consolation prize.

The Coyotes showed they could compete with the much more seasoned and experience Red Wings, taking them to the brink. But when it mattered the most, they couldn't deliver, falling by a score of 6 to 1 to the Wings.

So after a Cinderella season, when no one gave them a chance to make the playoffs, or frankly, even BE the Phoenix Coyotes anymore by the end of the season, the Yotes don't get their fairy tale ending. They have nothing to be ashamed of, but they're still walking away with nothing.

Going into tonight's game between the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens, the second and final game 7 of the first round, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between the abovementioned Western teams as well as the ones we shall see tonight.

Just like the Coyotes, the Canadiens are heavy underdogs. Just like the Red Wings, the Capitals SHOULD win this game and this series. And just like both the other teams, one will go on to the second round of the playoffs, the other will go home empty handed.

Sure, there are differences. Both the Habs and Caps have their own redeeming qualities and their own deficiencies, but Habs fans can't help but worry going into tonight's game. The Capitals have been a sleeping giant through six games so far in this series. They have yet to play a single 60-minute game, and their best players have been inconsistent at best. Two of them - Mike Green and Alex Semin - have been nearly invisible.

In a game that matters the most, one of two things will happen to the Capitals:

1- They will mail it in, convinced they can't beat Jaroslav Halak and the Canadiens, and the Habs will advance to play the Pittsburgh Penguins this weekend.

2- They will be motivated to show that they AREN'T chokers, that they CAN beat the Canadiens, and that they CAN be dominant, and we'll have a game that's similar to the one we saw in Phoenix last night.

In either case, tonight's game 7 should be a great game. There are storylines, frustrations and triumphs to settle, and the teams at either end will give it their all. Forget everything you learned in the first six games. What was a seven game series nearly two weeks ago is now a 1 game, do-or-die, sudden death series, and anything can happen. It will be a matter of who can control their nerves and stick to the game plan, who can bury their chances and shut down the opposing team.

Heading into tonight's game, a few questions (some mentioned above) remain for both Canadiens fans as well as Caps fans:

1- Can Jaroslav Halak play like he did on Monday, and steal another game from the best offense in the league?
You have to think that making 53 saves in a single game might have tired him out. It has before, and it could happen again, even though it would be at the most inopportune time. Don't get me wrong, Halak has proven himself to me and every other Habs fan in Montreal, but with everything resting on his shoulders tonight, there have to be a few worried heads this morning.

2- Can Jacques Martin outcoach Bruce Boudreau for a 3rd game in a row?
I thought I would be the last person saying this, but the coaching behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens has been masterful since game 5. Maybe the 5-1 loss woke up Jacques Martin, Perry Pearn and Kirk Muller, maybe J-Mart simply realized that he was a better coach than what he had been showing all season, but to say that Martin has proven to be the better strategist in these last two games would be an understatement. If Bruce Boudreau was ever going to coach the game of his life, it would be tonight, in his own building, in game 7, in a do-or-die game. Does Jacques Martin have it in him to coach a 3rd near-perfect game in a row?

3- Will the defense keep their legs?
The performance of some of the Canadiens on the blue line could best be described as heroic throughout this series, and especially the last 2 games. To give you a small sample, Andrei Markov played nearly 29 minutes on Monday, up two from Friday. Josh Gorges was down to 22 from the 27 he played Friday, but provided an assist, and has sacrificed his body 18 times throughout the series to block shots. Finally, Hal Gill has blocked a whopping 25 shots in 6 games, second in the playoffs behind Anton Volchenkov. He and Gorges, his defense partner, have played SIXTY MINUTES of shorthanded hockey through six games. That's an entire game! The problem? Will all the wear and tear, the bumps and bruises catch up to these players? PK Subban and Ryan O'Byrne are good support players on D, but they won't play the 25+ plus that the Canadiens might night from their three best guys, and Marc-Andre Bergeron and Roman Hamrlik have proven that they can't be trusted with defensive hockey.

4- Which offensive players will take over this game?
Mike Cammalleri leads all players in this series with 5 goals and 5 assists for 10 points (3rd in the entire first round of the playoffs). Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are close behind with 5 goals and 4 assists (9 points) each. Tomas Plekanec has also flexed his offensive muscle, providing 4 goals and 7 total points. If the game tonight is won on offense, it will be one of these four players that will take over and win it for their team. The question is, which duo, for which team will be able to do it?

5- Will the Washington Capitals sleep through another game?
Finally, the big question that's on everyone's minds. As mentioned above, the Capitals HAVE NOT played 60 consecutive minutes of hockey throughout this series. The 54 shots on Jaroslav Halak in game 6 may provide an argument against this, but the score would tell you otherwise. To win this game, they're going to play like the Canadiens - no mistakes, capitalize on all your chances and keep the pressure on the opposing team UP.Can they do this, or have they already peaked?

We are less than 12 hours away from knowing the answers to these questions. The pressure, the hype, anxiety and anticipation is ever-increasing. Fans from both Montreal and Washington will have trouble accomplishing anything today as they wait for the final game of the first round of these playoffs.

If the Canadiens win, they will play the Penguins.

If the Capitals win, they will play the Flyers.

The losers will go home empty happen.

It all comes to ahead tonight, and we will be with you every step of the game. Whether I will be doing another series preview tomorrow or a post-mortem, there really is no way to tell.

Enjoy the game!

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com
www.twitter.com/thecheckingline

Further reading:

- Habs Line-up: What to Expect (Steven Hindle, Hockeybuzz)
- Caps Line-up: What to Expect(Steven Hindle, Hockeybuzz)
- Can the Habs ''Cap'' Comeback against the Capitals? (Kamal Panesar, Habs Addict)

More to come!