Am I the only one who realizes that it is the playoffs? Okay, me and many Habs fans are aware that this is the time of year that hockey players have to step up their game a notch in order to continue playing. Are you listening Travis Moen? Andrei Kostitsyn? Roman Hamrlik? Maxim Lapierre? Jacques Martin?
There are too many players on the Montreal Canadiens who seem to be just playing out the string. Playing with no heart. Playing without any realization that it is a privilege to play professional sports for a living. These are different times and hard times to swallow for longtime fans such as myself.
How else do you explain the fact that they have not played a complete 60 minute game yet? That the Habs have allowed 2 spirit crushing, momentum changing shorthanded goals. That they seem to get tired as the game goes on and cannot compete in the 3rd period. That they can totally dominate a team for a period or two and wildly outshoot them, but only come up with one goal. That they can allow a team to take liberties with their goaltender. For all these reasons and more the Montreal Canadiens find themselves down 3 games to 1 in a best of seven series versus the Washington Capitals.
Realistically going into the series no one gave the Canadiens a snowball's chance in hell to win. I mean, Washington was the number one team in the entire NHL and Montreal finished 19th overall. It was a David versus Goliath type of series at best. After winning game 1 in Washington in overtime 3-2 optimism started creeping in. Then the optimism (amongst Habs fans) sprouted to real hope when the team took a 4-1 lead late in the 2nd period of game 2. Then reality started crashing in and hopes were crushed when they collapsed to lose 6-5 in overtime. The Capitals have not looked back since.
Despite the fact that the team seems to dominate in the early stages of games they fall apart late. In game four that trend was painfully apparent. After a rousing pregame ceremony that included a flaming torch and the transportation of the Montreal Forum ghosts over to the Bell Centre, the team came out and played inspired hockey. Players like Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and even the previous healthy scratch Sergei Kostitsyn were all playing well and peppering Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov with plenty of shots. In fact, in that category the Canadiens were ahead 33-18 after the 2nd period, but still found themselves in a 2-2 tie with the Caps.
This is because the Canadiens do not have what the Capitals have and that is natural goal scorers. The only true goal scorer that the team has is Cammalleri and one is not enough. The Capitals have Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin. Gomez and Gionta were trying their hardest, but they are at this stage in their careers complimentary players. They are second liners not players you should be resting your hopes on.
The Capitals opened the scoring at 8:10 of the 1st period on a power play goal by Ovechkin on one of his quick release wrist shots. It is probably a goal that Carey Price should have stopped, but Ovechkin has scored this type of goal against many an NHL goaltender, so I'm not laying blame on the Canadiens' goalie, who played a good game. The Canadiens showed plenty of chutzpah by continuing to battle and knotting the score 1-1 with a goal by Mike Cammalleri just over a minute later. The Bell Centre was rocking again.
The outshooting of the Capitals continued in the 2nd period with the Habs taking 21 shots on Varlamov. He managed to stymie them time and time again. A couple of flashing glove saves off Cammalleri and Roman Hamrlik put an exclamation point on things. The home side finally managed to solve the Caps goalie on the power play when Brian Gionta pushed his own rebound past Varlamov.
The euphoria and lead lasted just around 4 minutes as it all came crumbling cruelly down in the last seconds of the 2nd period. It looked promising when Alex Ovechkin was sent to the penalty box late in the 2nd period due to a too many men on the ice infraction. Power play Habs.
Now, I have not coached even one minute of an NHL game, but I think even I would not have risked having Roman Hamrlik and Marc-André Bergeron out on the point together in the last minute of the period with only a one goal lead despite the fact that we were on the power play. Bergeron's defensive liabilities are well known and Roman Hamrlik has been looking slow and unsteady all series. Jacques Martin seemed comfortable enough with the two.
Predictably, (with an "I told you so" tone coming up) Hamrlik fumbled with the puck at the Capitals blueline and Boyd Gordon broke away with Mike Knuble on a 2-on-1. Gordon slipped a cross crease pass over to the unmarked Knuble, who gave Price no chance to save it and it was 2-1 Capitals with 6.3 seconds left in the 2nd. Back breaking!
It was then no surprise to anyone who has been watching the series that the Canadiens came out totally flat in the 3rd period. They were outshot 20-6 and outscored 4-1. Ovechkin and Jason Chimera scored within a 1:23 span and that was all she wrote. Knuble (his second of the game) and Backstrom scored into an empty net and the Habs Dominic Moore notched one late off a nice individual effort to make the final score 6-3.
The score does not reflect the game as the Habs did dominate for 2 periods and it was closer than that, but the Canadiens got what they deserved when they once again collapsed in the 3rd period of a game. They now have their backs against the wall going back to Washington down 3-1 and somehow, if they have any hopes of winning the series, have to do what they have not been able to yet in the series – play a complete 60 minute game. That plus win three games in a row against the league's number one team. Bonne chance, les gas!
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Dan O'Rourke and Tim Peel
Linesmen: Steve Miller and Mark Shewchyk
-Goals: 1st Period:
8:10 – Washington – (pp) Alex Ovechkin assisted by Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green
9:12 – Montreal – Mike Cammalleri assisted by Roman Hamrlik and Glen Metropolit
15:42 – Montreal – (pp) Brian Gionta assisted by Marc-André Bergeron and Andrei Markov
19:53 – Washington – (sh) Mike Knuble assisted by Boyd Gordon and Jon Carlson
11:09 – Washington – Alex Ovechkin assisted by Alexander Semin
12:01 – Washington – Jason Chimera assisted by Matt Bradley
17:33 – Washington – (en) Mike Knuble assisted by Nicklas Backstrom
18:42 – Montreal – Dominic Moore assisted by Roman Hamrlik
19:49 – Washington – (en) Nicklas Backstrom assisted by Tom Poti and Alex Ovechkin
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 39
-3 Stars: 1) Semyon Varlamov – Washington
2) Alex Ovechkin – Washington
3) Mike Cammalleri – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal: 3