Halak sparkles as Canadiens force Game 7
While most of his Montreal Canadiens teammates sat in their dressing room stalls and spun superlatives about his amazing performance, Jaroslav Halak took his sweet time before he faced a mob of reporters.
The Slovakian sensation could be excused for his post-game breather. He had just turned in a wonderful and exhausting 53-save effort to lead the Canadiens to a 4-1 victory and force a seventh and deciding game against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET).
"I was tired," confessed Halak, whose save total was a club record, regular season or playoffs. "I'm glad the game didn't go into overtime."
The way Halak played there was no threat of Game 6 reaching overtime. He made 18 saves in the first period to preserve a 2-0 lead and 22 more in the final 20 minutes, but does he have enough left in the tank after surrendering only two goals on 90 saves in back-to-back victories for Montreal?
"We have tied the series, but there is one more to get," Halak said. "Still, we have nothing to lose. We just need to go out there and play our game."
Halak certainly is the toast of Montreal right now and one can only imagine how heightened his popularity would be if he cashes in one more victory to send the Capitals packing. The Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals finished 33 points in front of the Canadiens in the regular season, but their league-leading offence and power play has sputtered for long stretches in this series.
The Capitals suffered through another discouraging evening on the power play, going 0-6. They now have gone 1-30 in man-advantage situations in the series.
"You know you're going to be in for a good night when your best penalty killer is your goalie," said Habs defenceman Josh Gorges, who also enjoyed a strong game checking Washington superstar Alexander Ovechkin.
After Mike Cammalleri scored his fourth and fifth goals to put Montreal ahead 2-0 before the game was 10 minutes old, the Canadiens killed off a 75-second, 5-on-3 advantage. Gorges, his defence partner Hal Gill and Tom Pyatt kept the Capitals to the outside during this critical time.
The 5-foot-11, 179-pound Halak definitely dropped some weight from his busy workload. Not only did the Capitals fire 54 shots on him, they narrowly missed 17 times and his teammates blocked 23 more. The frustration was evident on the faces of Ovechkin and Co. Halak was asked if the Capitals tried to unnerve him with some trash talking.
"I don't listen to them," said Halak, who made several dandy stops in a few goal-mouth scrambles, but a glove-hand save on Washington defenceman Joe Corvo in the second period was the highlight.
'He was spectacular'
Halak may have tuned out the Capitals, but he could hear the deafening roars from the supportive capacity crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre. He received a handful of standing ovations and the fanatics chanted "Halak! Halak! Halak!" near the end of the victory.
"He was spectacular," Gorges said. "That was one of the best performances I've ever seen. I don't know what else to say."
Besides Halak and Gorges, Montreal forward Max Lapierre also enjoyed a strong game. He was rewarded for his hard work when he increased the Habs lead to 3-0 early in the third period. But referee Tim Peel, not the most popular person in the building, whistled Lapierre for two stand-alone diving penalties and nailed Brian Gionta for another when he was tripped by Washington Tomas Fleischmann, who also went to the box on the play.
Capitals forward Eric Fehr broke Halak's shutout bid with 4:50 remaining and Montreal's Tomas Plekanec added an empty netter in the final minute.
The Canadiens know that they will have to be a little tighter defensively if they hope to complete the comeback.
"We didn’t shut them down, but we made a lot of great saves," Cammalleri said. "I've said it all series, 'You're not going to shut these guys down.' You're not going to play a game where they're only going to get 10 shots on net. You're just not going to; they're that good.
"But we were able to weather it tonight and Jaro played well."
Another factor is that Washington has Game 7 experience. This is the third consecutive year that the Capitals have faced a seventh game in the opening round. They beat the New York Rangers last year, but lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008.
"This is what you dream about on the pond as a kid, playing in a Game 7," Gill said.