Power play could decide Habs-Caps Game 7
Most of the talk surrounding Game 7 between the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals has been about goaltending.
Not for nothing: Montreal's Jaroslav Halak became the surprise hit of the playoffs by stopping a combined 90 of 92 shots over the last two contests, including a ridiculous 53 of 54 in the Canadiens' stunning 4-1 win in Game 6 on Monday night.
Meanwhile, Washington is facing familiar questions about its netminding. Young Semyon Varlamov has posted a respectable .912 save percentage since replacing Jose Theodore in goal for Game 2, but has yet to steal a game like Halak.
Still, what may really decide Wednesday's rubber match is the power play.
That aspect of the game — increasingly important, it seems, in the post-lockout NHL — was both teams' bread and butter this season. The Capitals led the league by converting 25.2 per cent of their opportunities, and the Habs were second-best at 21.8 per cent.
Worst playoff power plays
Different story in the playoffs. At least for Washington. While Montreal is a solid five-for-27 (18.5 per cent), the Capitals are a laughable one-for-30 (3.3 per cent). That's easily the worst success rate by any playoff team that's had at least that many chances, and the four teams clustered around Washington in the power-play rankings have all been eliminated.
"I don't know," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said of his team's scoring woes. "Your guess is as good as mine."
Start with Alex Semin. The mercurial winger was fourth on the team with 27 power-play points in the regular season, but has zero in the playoffs. In fact, Semin has just one even-strength assist and no goals (despite firing more shots than anyone) after netting 40 goals in the regular season.
Then there's Mike Green. The NHL's highest-scoring defenceman has one power-play point after notching 35 in the regular season. He's also looking for his first goal of the playoffs.
Winger Mike Knuble insisted things will turn around.
"No matter what's happened with the power play, we did a lot good things on it and it will pay off," Knuble said. "We all believe that. Keep getting a lot of pucks on net and it will pay off. We all believe that. We've scored a lot of goals and we know where goals are scored."
Ovechkin on the spot
Perhaps no player has as much on the line Wednesday as Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals superstar has been very good in the playoffs, racking up five goals and nine points in six games to bring his career post-season totals to 20 goals and 39 points in 27 games.
But hockey's most exciting player is starting to get knocked (fairly or not) as a guy who doesn't win the big ones. All three of the playoff series he's played in have gone to a Game 7, and his team lost two of them.
Most devastating was last year's second-round defeat by Ovechkin's chief rival, Sidney Crosby, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who embarrassed the Capitals 6-2 in front of their own fans in Washington.
Ovechkin also came up short at the Vancouver Olympics, where his Russian team was annihilated 7-3 in the quarter-finals by Crosby's Canadians.
A big clutch performance Wednesday would mean the world for Ovechkin, who delivered the most succinct take on what's at stake in Game 7.
"One team is going to be on vacation," he said. "And, you know, I don't want to think about vacation right now."