MONTREAL – Entering these playoffs, the Washington Capitals had gone to a seventh and deciding game in all three playoff series they have ever played under head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Now you can make it four.
The Capitals allowed the Montreal Canadiens to erase a 3-1 deficit and even their Eastern Conference quarter-final series at three games apiece with a 4-1 loss Monday night, reducing the series to a one-game sudden-death showdown to be played in Washington on Wednesday.
This Capitals team may have a lot of experience playing in seventh games, but they?ve never approached one coming off two straight losses.
“We have to wipe the slate clean,” Boudreau said. “If you start thinking and let them get inside your head from what?s happened in the past, then you’re in trouble. It all starts fresh, take a deep breath and come back at them.”
The Capitals have seen two chances to eliminate Montreal thwarted by Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak, who allowed only two goals on 92 shots in Games 5 and 6 combined.
“Sometimes, goalies get in a zone where nothing is going to beat them, and he?s in that zone,” Boudreau said. “Everything he saw, he was going to stop.”
If the Capitals played horribly and generated few opportunities, it might be easier for Boudreau to make some adjustments heading into Game 7. But when a goalie continues turning aside an abundance of quality scoring chances, how can a coach make changes to help his team to victory?
“We just have to go and do what we do,” Boudreau said. “I don’t think there will be too many changes at all. I thought the team played good, the group was as good as we can put out there.”
Capitals winger Mike Knuble repeatedly mentioned how he and his teammates were not getting frustrated by Halak, that sooner or later those scoring chances will turn into actual goals.
“There can’t be any frustration in our game,” Knuble said. “No matter what?s happened with the power play, we did a lot good things on it and it will pay off. We all believe that. Keep getting a lot of pucks on net and it will pay off. We all believe that.”
However, Boudreau admitted that his shooters were starting to think too much about how to beat Halak. It took 52 shots to finally beat him Monday, with Eric Fehr finally scoring on a tap-in at 15:10 of the third period.
“That’s absolutely what happens, instead of just shooting you try to be fine and try to pick two-inch spots,” Boudreau said. “What ends up going in is that shot that did go in, a wide shot that’s redirected that he has no chance on. They get so frustrated that they try to pick two-inch spots all over the ice, and usually that doesn’t work.”
The one area the Capitals definitely need to improve remains the power play, which is now a dismal 1-for-30 in the series after being shutout on six opportunities Wednesday.
The Capitals did generate 18 of their 54 shots on the power play, but not one of them came during a crucial two-man advantage in the first period with the Capitals trailing 2-0.
“I thought if we were going to score that would have been it,” Boudreau said. “We were trying to be too cute again. There might be personnel changes if we ever get that again.”
In the previous seven-game series, the Capitals forced the deciding showdown by winning Game 6. Now this young team is on the other side of that situation.
It will be interesting to see how the President’s Trophy winners will react.
“I’m sure guys are disappointed, but we’re not frustrated,” Knuble said. “We’ll be ready to go in much the same way on Wednesday.”