Habs Goalie: Halak (W)
Opposition Goalie: Varlamov (L)
Habs goalscorers: Bergeron, Moore
Opposition goalscorers: Laich
With 3:30 left and millions of fans wondering if 1-0 would be enough something very good happened for all of us. It started with a very good Hal Gill clearance that, instead of being whistled for icing, ended up being a winnable puck for the fast Max Lapierre. Max had just had a goal disallowed and I think we all know the type of warrior he can be when he is pissed off. Well, it was that emotion that fueled him as he barreled in on Mike (Norris?) Green and won the puck easily and fairly. Moore then flew in himself to pick up the loose puck and to head in alone on Varlamov. A perfectly placed shot on the far-side ended up being the winner; it was a goal that we apparently needed more than anything.
No forwards were used more than Gomez and Gionta tonight as their composure and experience went a long way in this one. Scott ended up taking 34 of the 65 face-offs in the game and did a formidable job by winning 50% of them. His defensive play was outstanding tonight and without it we wouldn't be moving on. His offensive play, limited, yes, was also good at times - especially when he made a beautiful pass to Bergeron on our first goal.
It baffles me that a lot of people didn't even think Max should be in the line up in these playoffs. It isn't, however, those peoples' opinions that trouble me, rather, it is the fact that Lapierre actually deserved those assertions. After this series, though, I think that it is clear that he is playing the best hockey of his season, quite possibly of his career. Towards the end of the game he truly stood out with an impressive 'assist' and a very courageous and timely shot-block in the dying minutes.
What a steal this move turned out to be for the Habs. For a second-round pick we found ourselves a played that could play a position that you only hope will one day be filled by a second-round pick of your own. And, we didn't have to wait 6 years to find out. Scoring the game-winner tonight, in game 7, in his first playoff series in which he had a significant role to play must be a highlight for him and it is most certainly good reward for all of the hard work he and his line did against the Caps. Tonight he kept up the good work that we have seen since his arrival on the eve of the Olympics as he was truly a force in his own end. I'm not surprised that his ice-time has creeped up to 15+ and hope that he is used in the same was as we go forward.
Tonight was a clear example of what a farce the Norris trophy is. Why doesn't the league cancel the vote and just award it to highest scoring winger who calls himself a defenceman and get it over with. Hal Gill showed a lot of people what defence, real defence is tonight. He has gone from defensive-liability to quite possibly one of the best signings of Gainey's career in a matter of a few weeks. He was all over Ovechkin's line, again, and, once again, was coming up huge on shot-blocks. Obviously he is now a sung hero, but how about unexpected hero? Will that do?
Nothing against Gorges, who played a great game, but Markov, I thought, was so good tonight. He played with such poise in his own end as he made clearance after clearance, break-out pass after break-out pass look easy. He picked up an assist, led the Habs in ice-time and tied Gill for the team lead with six blocked-shots.
Jaroslav Halak - Game Puck
I thought that the defence did an awesome job, but let's face it, where would we have been without Jaro tonight. Their 42 shots were 3 times more than our total and when you consider the quality of their shooters the word 'steal' certainly comes to mind yet again. This game may not have been as jam-packed with highlight reel saves as Monday's, but when you remember that it is a game #7, on the road, against a team that topped you by 30+ points in the table, this may be the best performance of a Hab goalie since 1993.
Washington started this game as tentatively as we did as they knew very well that, thanks to our better goaltending, a Hab-lead could mean the end of their season. So, in the early going they weren't as lively as one would expect. They did control the flow of play, but it seemed like that was an easier period for Halak and the D than one would have expected. A late break led to a 1-0 lead for us and, so, we were off. Washington, however, came out in the second period to play and they kept that up for the remainder of the game. In all they out-shot us 31-8 over the final 40 minutes of their season, but only managed a 1-1 draw. That, of course, is thanks to the very hard work of Halak, our D and all of forwards, who all bought into the defensive system and did their best to shut down the machine. The refs tried their best to be even during those last 2 periods as both teams had a goal disallowed for goalie interference (was anyone at all shocked when they waved ours off???). Also, to make the PP-chances even, O'Byrne drew a very timely penalty (for the Caps) late in the third. It was, quite possibly, one of the weakest calls I had ever seen. You can't underestimate the power of TV revenues (OT) and of Ovechkin in the next round - the refs know that. The Habs, however, were up to the test as, once again, their PK, was beyond excellent. The game couldn't end soon enough as the palms couldn't stop sweating, but in the end we got what we came for.
It is now off to Pittsburgh for yet another huge test. The team must be on a high right now, but I really hope they understand what they have gotten themselves in to. The Pens are just as good, if not better, than the Caps and, so, we'll have to be better than we were. We won this series thanks to Halak and quite a bit of luck. No one can expect those two things to always line-up, so I think we must work harder. We have to go back to playing hockey in the offensive zone, we have to stop allowing 40+ shots and we have to believe that we too are a good team. Good enough to do it all again.