Monday, April 26, 2010

Canadiens/Capitals Game Six: Halak carries Habs to seventh game


Facing elimination, and having not won a home playoff game in nearly two years, the Montreal Canadiens had their backs against the wall in Game Six of their first round series against the Washington Capitals.

Perhaps the young player sporting a Ken Dryden mask in the pre-game ceremony was a positive omen as they answered the call, thanks to the brilliant 53-save goaltending performance from Jaroslav Halak.

After an early exchange of end-to-end rushes and opportunities by both teams, the Canadiens struck on the power play at 7:30 when Mike Cammalleri blew a shot past Semyon Varlamov.

Ninety-nine seconds later, Cammalleri struck again on a set play from the draw, taking a quick pass from P.K. Subban for his fifth goal of the playoffs.

“Everyone was concerned about getting the job done and movign on to game seven,” said Subban, who had been called up Sunday evening from the Hamilton Bulldogs. “I was a little bit tired. It was a bit of a battle for me, but I’m happy I kept the puck out of my end.”

The Canadiens appeared on track but got into penalty problems later in the period, finding themselves on the opposite side of a 5-on-3 Capitals power play.

Hal Gill and Josh Gorges were crucial in killing the Washington two-man advantage that lasted 49 seconds. Whatever they couldn’t stop, Halak was there to turn away. Another 1:46 of unsuccessful 5 on 4 time for the Capitals had the Bell Centre crowd on it’s feet.

“Our biggest penalty killer was Jaroslav,” said Canadiens coach Jaques Martin. “The five-on-three was crucial and I thought they (Gill and Gorges) played it extremely well.”

The Capitals had 18 shots on Halak, to just 10 for the Canadiens, but the home team skated out after the first 20 with a 2-0 lead. They also held the physical edge early with an 11-5 hit advantage.

Montreal was forced to kill off two Capitals power plays early in the second period, but Halak answered the call yet again. The Slovak netminder came up with big saves, including one on the snake-bitten Alexander Semin and stopping Alex Ovechkin in close.

Washington had an 11-0 shot advantage through the first nine minutes, with the Canadiens not getting one on Varlamov until the 10:13 mark and managed just three all period.

Playing his best game of the series, in light of a pair of diving infractions, Maxim Lapierre raced up the right wing blasted in a shot past Varlamov to give the Canadiens a three-goal lead at 4:17 of the third. It was Lapierre’s first career playoff goal.

“Everybody played great tonight,” said Lapierre noting a full 60-minute effort from everyone on the ice. “I just followed the group.”

On the downside, if Lapierre has a previous diving call this season, he could be subject to suspension.

“Lapierre’s been called his whole life on diving,” said a bitter Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who has seen his team squander a 3-1 series lead. “They dive a lot. I’m grateful that they started calling them.”

Not giving up, Washington continued to minimize the Canadiens attack, limiting them to just 22 shots on the night, and keep the pressure on. Halak answered every attempt, even flashing the leather a-la Patrick Roy on occasion at the frustrated Capitals.

Eric Fehr finally solved Halak on the Capital’s 52nd shot, tipping a point shot past the Canadiens netminder with just under five minutes to play.

Halak’s 53 saves set a franchise record in a regulation playoff game. The previous holder was the man emulated in the pre-game ceremony.

“You can’t stop all of them,” Halak said on Fehr’s shutout buster. “It’s a great feeling, especially in the playoffs, winning a game like that.”

The Canadiens goalie was asked if he had another performance like that left in him for Game Seven, “We’ll see what happens. Every game is a different game.”

Tomas Plekanec potted an empty net goal with 57 seconds remaining to seal the win and snap the Canadiens six-game home losing streak in the playoffs.

“We’ve liked our group all year long,” said Cammalleri on a rebuilt Canadiens team that was given little chance to even make the playoffs, let alone take the top seed to a seventh game. “You’re not going to shut these guys down. We know we have to do our best to make it difficult for them. They’re the team that’s supposed to win and we’re the underdog.”

The series concludes Wednesday night in Washington.

Three Stars: 1. Halak 2. Cammalleri 3. Maxim Lapierre

Game Photos: Montreal Gazette

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