As I exited the Verizon Center this evening, I saw a few things that spoke to what I had just witnessed. Dejected Caps fans covered their Ovechkin jerseys with jackets and pull overs. I walked past a sign showing a basset hound with its ears held out straight; “SURPRISED?” it asked. Frankly, yes. Surprised, shocked, slightly embarrassed; the Caps, the best team in the NHL, had just been defeated by a number eight seed in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. How did it happen? I’m sure there a dozen perspectives. Mine is that the Caps never quite figured out how to get inside the Canadien’s defense and play the net.
It goes without saying that a game 7 in a tournament is a do or die situation. The Caps came in off of back to back losses to the Canadiens, being strung along in a series they should have wrapped up in game five. Washington started the game aggressively, roughing up Montreal and out-hitting them 15-3. Still, the Canadiens would not be intimidated and retained the rock solid defense they’d exhibited in the last two games. The Caps had a few chances on goal with shots barely missing. Unfortunately, Montreal goalie Jarolsalav Halak was superhuman yet again, and nothing could get by him. The Candiens scored in the 19th minute during a 4-on-3 power play, with Marc-Andre Bergeron slapping the puck in off of a brilliant pass from a team mate. This took much of the air out of the rink.
The second period continued fast and furious, with both teams hustling up and down the rink. The Caps seemed to favor long slap and wrist shots instead of getting in close on the goal and scrumming it out for points. This seemed to contradict the logic that, as Jaroslav Halak could read just about every shot coming his way, it might be better to come in close so as to disguise your intentions a bit better. Washington failed to score on back-to-back power plays late in the period and left the ice for the second intermission without any goals.
The third period truly way due or die. In the first minute of play, Ovie managed to sneak a shot in that was overruled by the referees due to Mike Knuble interfering with the goalie. The call was controversial, and I’ll try to avoid any childish name calling and refrain from making swears. Moments later, Dominic Moore scored over the right leg of goalie Semyon Varlamov, sealing the Capitals’ fate. Brooks Laich scored on the Canadiens and the Caps were blessed with a power play in the closing minutes of the game, but were unable to finish. The Caps lost 2-1 and thus ended their brilliant season. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to drink some bourbon and go to my happy place.