Canadiens upset Capitals in Game 7 stunner
When the frantic final moments finished and the Montreal Canadiens had escaped with their colossal upset of the Washington Capitals, the breadth of emotions inside the Verizon Center ran the gamut.
There was pure joy down on the ice as the Canadiens enveloped their superhuman goaltender Jaroslav Halak in celebration. He successfully steered the underdogs to three wins in a row, including a dramatic 2-1 finale on Wednesday to take the opening-round series in seven games.
On the other side of the rink and up in the stands among those who remained from the capacity crowd of 18,377, there was disbelief and anger. Some fans exhibited their unhappiness with loud jeers as the Capitals waited to shake the hands of their worthy opponents.
Underneath the stands, Bob Gainey best summed what he had just witnessed.
Fans take to the streets
Montreal Canadiens fans were in a frenzy following Wednesday's razor thin 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in the seventh and deciding game of their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final.
Thousands spilled out of bars cheering and hooting, dancing in the streets and snarling traffic in the downtown core.
"Go Habs Go!" chants could be heard for blocks between car horn blasts and the "Ole! Ole!" war cry.
And they were toasting the man who has brought their hockey team — the unheralded Canadiens — a Game 7 victory, ousting the much-favoured Capitals.
Montreal's adulation was directed at Jaroslav Halak. The Slovak netminder was depicted as Jesus Christ in one local newspaper where he was drawn Wednesday in a Habs jersey, goalie mask and flowing white robes.
Another newspaper Wednesday drew the diminutive goalie, Halak, as an acrobat from the Cirque du soleil.
Police have had to deal in the past with rowdiness and vandalism following key Canadiens games, including an infamous riot following the 1993 Stanley Cup win.
In 2008, a quarter-final win over the Bruins resulted in a night of looting and arson against police vehicles that ended with 56 arrests.
"You never know in sports," said the legendary Canadiens forward, who stepped aside two months ago as the team's general manager.
The stoic Gainey even managed to crack a smile at the prospect that his team has moved on to face Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in a second-round that commences Friday at Mellon Arena (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).
But Gainey was right.
These Cinderella stories occasionally happen in sports. This team was supposed to be too small, too soft. Still, it pulled off a shocking victory that ranks right up there with the upsets of all time.
The eighth-place Edmonton Oilers beat up on the Presidents' Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings in six games in 2006. But the Oilers finished 29 points behind Detroit. These Canadiens were a whopping 33 behind the first-place Capitals. These Canadiens required a point in their regular-season finale to squeak into the playoffs.
"A lot of guys cared in this room and wanted to keep playing," said Montreal forward Mike Cammalleri, who led his team with five goals in the series.
Halak channels Roy
But how do you explain Halak turning into Patrick Roy in the final three games? He stopped 131 of 134 shots in the final three games for a gaudy .978 save percentage against the NHL's top offensive team.
"Some people didn't give us a chance to even win one game," Halak said. "They were wrong. This team showed a lot of character and a lot of composure."
Who could have predicted the Canadiens would have shut down Alexander Ovechkin and the league-leading power play? Another 0-3 in the series finale meant the Capitals managed only one goal in 33 man-advantage situations.
How do you explain the two critical goals coming from hard-shooting Marc-André Bergeron on the power play in the first period and Dominic Moore late in the third? The power-play specialist Bergeron played a grand total of 4:06 in Game 7.
How do you explain the fact that Ovechkin failed to score a goal in the two final crucial games? Here's a guy who was so distraught after the Capitals were eliminated in a seventh game by Crosby and the Penguins last spring that he returned home to Moscow and didn't watch a second of the remaining Stanley Cup action. He also suffered through the embarrassment of Russia's 7-3 loss to Team Canada in the Olympic quarter-finals two months ago.
Ovechkin was almost speechless afterwards: "I think we're all disappointed, but you know I really have nothing to say right now. We all know we [are] a pretty good team, but we didn't win when we had to win. I don't know."
'I give Montreal credit'
Ovechkin wasn't the only Washington player who didn't do his part. Offensive defenceman Mike Green and sniper Alexander Semin failed to scored a single goal in the series. Green took an undisciplined cross-checking penalty that led to the Bergeron goal and overskated the puck on the play that resulted in Moore's 2-0 goal.
The Capitals made it close when Brooks Laich swiped in a rebound with 2:16 remaining. They had a late-game power-play opportunity, but like the entire series it went by the wayside.
"Sometimes, you just don't score goals [and] the other team takes it away," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I give Montreal credit."
There was some controversy in the opening minute of the third period. Ovechkin fired in a shot, but referee Brad Watson waved off the goal because Mike Knuble made contact in the crease with Halak's right pad.
"That's a violation that hasn't been called all year," Knuble said. "I felt all night I wasn't a crease presence. I was right on the edge where I should be and we talked about it, the referee and I. I haven't seen a replay yet, but that is something weird. You haven't seen it all year and now it comes in Game 7."
The Canadiens blocked an incredible 41 shots in the series finale, led by Hal Gill with six. Gill, who returns to Pittsburgh where he won the Stanley Cup last spring, remarked that the Canadiens believed they could knock off the Capitals after they won the series opener in Washington.
"We came out and played so well," said Gill, whose club took three of four games in Washington. "I want to enjoy this for a little bit, then we'll think about [Pittsburgh]. We don't make it easy on ourselves. It's going to be a tough challenge."