Montreal's Jaroslav Halak turned in a performance to remember in Game 6 against the Capitals, stopping 53 shots to help force a Game 7 back in Washington. ((Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images))

At a team skate before Game 5 of their playoff series in Washington last week, Montreal Canadiens Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Markov decided they'd have some fun with goaltender Jaroslav Halak.

"It was a drill where the defenceman shoots and if there's a rebound you play it," Cammalleri said Tuesday. "But we were playing the rebound, then passing back door for the open net, which is kind of not fair.

"In a game, you're never going to have that much time. As he was getting more angry, me and Marky were doing it more and more. Ah sucker! You know? He ended up playing great. So see? You can do whatever. He's not a guy you're afraid to talk to or whatever.

"If you do that to some goalies, they'll go right out of their net, into the locker -room and they won't talk to you for two days."

Halak went out that night and made 37 saves in a 2-1 victory that kept Montreal alive in a series the high-scoring Capitals had hitherto dominated.

Then he came back to Montreal and produced his masterpiece, a 53-save gem to lead the Canadiens to a 4-1 victory and even the best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference series at three wins apiece. That set up a decisive Game 7 in Washington on Wednesday night.

Written off

Few people gave the eighth-seeded Canadiens any chance of beating the first-place overall Capitals. But the prospect of a winner-take-all seventh game had Canadiens fans for the first time since the playoffs started flying team flags and tooting horns in the street after the game.

A debate emerged on where Halak's performance stood in Canadiens history, with Ken Dryden's heroics as a rookie in the 1971 post-season against Chicago and Patrick Roy's overtime brilliance in 1986 against the New York Rangers as leading comparisons.

Halak will likely need another big game to get Montreal into the second round against a team whose shooters look increasingly desperate and frustrated.

The Capitals will also be without one of their top defencemen, Tom Poti, who took a puck in the eye in the second period of Game 6. In Washington, coach Bruce Boudreau said Poti, who pairs with rookie John Carlson, called it a "pretty significant injury" and said he may be out for two or three weeks.

Defence prospect Karl Alzner was called up from AHL Hershey. 

All smiles  

After the game, Halak couldn't stop grinning as he met with the media, even though, as usual, he deflected much of the credit to his teammates for clearing rebounds and blocking shots. As well as the 54 shots that reached Halak, 23 more were blocked and another 17 missed the net.

He drew laughs when, asked to describe his performance, he said: "I'd say, another day at the office."

And asked about the 90 saves he made over two must-win games, he said: "It's only stops, it's only numbers. It's a team game and if you don't win, you're not successful. Every game is different. We'll see what happens."

Halak seems to thrive on activity, going unbeaten in regulation time in 13 games this season in which he faced 35 or more shots.

"Maybe we should let him have 70 shots a game and we'd have the Cup," centre Scott Gomez joked before adding: "Really, you can't give them that many chances. They're so good."