Pinch me I'm dreaming: Habs take Game 1
Note- Read this HILARIOUS blog from Mike Obrand of Habs Laughs: How the Canadiens Can Upset the Capitals
Habs fans all over the planet are asking themselves several questions this morning:
1) Did that really happen?
2) No, really?
3) Seriously? The Habs beat the Caps? In Washington? In the playoffs?
5) Alright, stop kidding around... really?
To most Habs fans, myself included, last night's game was somewhat of a daze. Not only did they win a game no one really expected them to win, but they shut out Alex Ovechkin, but on the scoreboard AND on the shot totals. They did it with their best players being at their best, and their goaltender being even better than all the rest.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, it wasn't all positive. The game was very close, and despite valiant efforts from nearly every defenseman in a Canadiens' uniform, they still allowed the Capitals to get 47 shots on Jaroslav Halak, including a dismal first period, in which they allowed 19 shots. They still barely got by beating the Capitals in overtime.
But it's the playoffs, and no matter how you do it, winning is the goals. While the Capitals shouldn't come out of last night's game completely down on themselves, they lost. The Canadiens won. And it's as simple as that.
Nonetheless, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't take somewhat of a deeper look into what happened last night. The end result of the game, a 3-2 overtime victory for the Canadiens, can be summed up in three general points:
A- The Habs' best forwards were the Habs best forwards
Going into last night's game, Micheal Cammalleri hadn't scored a goal since January 23rd. Missing 17 games with a torn MCL, he simply wasn't able to get it going upon his return in late March. In the final 9 games of the season since his return, Cammalleri could only muster two assists. As the playoffs approached, many were getting worried about Cammalleri and whether he'd be able to get it going when it mattered the most. Well, if you didn't watch the last nine games of the season, you'd think that Cammalleri didn't miss a beat. Not only did he score the first goal of the game, he was on the ice for the game winner in overtime and played a big part on the play.
The second Canadiens' goalscorer, Scott Gomez, was also going through somewhat of a scoring drought, going without a goal in 14 games to close out the season. Of course, Gomez isn't known for scoring goals, and he did manage to put up nearly an assist-per-game in that span, but no player wants to go 14 games without scoring a goal. He, too, ended his scoring drought last night, scoring a beautiful, highlight-reel goal. Gomez skated from one red line to the other, and around 5 Capitals players in the process, to feed the puck to Brian Gionta, who fed it back to him for an easy goal on Jose Theodore.
Finally, Tomas Plekanec was the subject of some controversy earlier in the week, saying that Montreal's goaltending was better than Washington's. The comment elicited a response from Caps' tender José Theodore, who responded to the comment by saying Tomas who? Jagr? Oh, Plekanec. OK. I thought you meant Jagr," implying that Plekanec wasn't anywhere near a good playing, by comparing him to his countryman and future NHL Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr.
Well, my dear José, the best Hollywood writers couldn't have written a better ending to this motion picture. With 7 minutes to go in the first overtime frame, Plekanec streaked into the Capitals' zone along with Mike Cammalleri, and slapped the puck past Jose Theodore to win the game, proving that he is indeed money.
It would be really difficult to find a poor performance from any of the Canadiens forwards last night. Yes, as the game progressed, Jacques Martin shortened his bench, and yes, certain players played a lot more than others, but in the end, everyone contributed, everyone played the game they were meant to play, and everyone added something that led to this victory.
B- The defense showed up
Would you believe me if I told you that Marc-Andre Bergeron had the second most ice-time on the entire team, putting in 27:37, only a single second less than Andrei Markov.
Similarly, would you believe me if I told you Jaroslav Spacek, who seemingly shadowed Alexander Ovechkin the entire night and completely removed him from the scoreboard, the shot totals, and the game in general, only payed 19:51?
How about Hal Gill, who contributed a whopping 25:17? And of course, let's not forget Roman Hamrlik (23:19) and Josh Gorges (23:15).
Coming into this game, I said that one of the keys to any Canadiens' victory would be match-ups. It would mean getting Spacek on the ice with Ovechkin, getting Gill out on every PK, and Marc-Andre Bergeron out on every powerplay. Jacques Martin proved that he was a master strategist, in that regard, and he got his match-ups. He, along with his group of defensemen, managed to take Washington's best forwards out of the game, and they shut it down the way they wanted to, regardless of the final shot totals.
And while people will focus on Spacek's heroics or Bergeron's unfathomable performance, all six defensemen deserve equal credit for a great strategic game.
C- Jaroslav Halak
What else can we really say about what Jaroslav Halak has done for this team this year? There will be plenty of time to discuss whether Halak has a future in this town or whether Carey Price will once again take his spot as ''franchise goaltender'', but for now, we should appreciate what Halak has done, and what he will surely continue to do over the next few games.
The only worry is whether he will tire after a few games of 45 shots plus from the best offensive team in the league.
But once again, while most people will be talking about Plekanec's emphatic statement goal, or Spacek's handling of Ovechkin, Jaroslav Halak deserve an equal amount of credit for last night's win.
To summarize, the Canadiens are still a long way from winning this series. They still have a lot of improving to do, and the odds are still stacked against them. But last night's game was a statement game. And a statement they certainly made.
Tomorrow night will be game 2 at the Verizon center, and we will be covering the game for you thoroughly. Follow all the latest blogs from both sides and all the game notes at this link!