MONTREAL – Goaltender Jaroslav Halak declined to speak to the media on Sunday, sending word through the Montreal Canadiens staff that he did not want to get into a “war of words” with Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin.
After posting a goal and three assists as the Capitals erased a 4-1 deficit to beat Montreal 6-5 in overtime in Game 2 of their NHL Eastern Conference playoff series, Ovechkin opined that Halak was “shaking” after giving up a goal.
It suggested the Capitals were in the head of the goalie who stoned them in a 3-2 OT win in the opener and would give them an edge as the best-of-seven series moves to the Bell Centre for Game 3 on Monday night and Game 4 on Wednesday.
The Canadiens, glad to return home with the series tied 1-1, doubt that Halak is rattled.
“I don’t see it,” said winger Mike Cammalleri. “Jaro’s a pretty calm, cool, collected cat and I’ve never seen him shaking, so I’m not worried about it.
“From what I heard, they think they’ve got their whole game back and feel good about themselves. We feel good about ourselves as well, so that should lead to a nice Game 3.”
The Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 should be raucous as the eighth-seeded Canadiens, who many thought would be overwhelmed by the first-overall Capitals and their devastating attack, earned a split of overtime games in Washington.
But what doubts will linger after the Canadiens blew a 4-1 lead late in the second period and a 5-4 edge late in the third before bowing out on Nicklas Backstom’s overtime goal in Game 2?
“We went there to win one game and we accomplished that and now we have to take care of our home ice,” said centre Scott Gomez. “Playing the best team in the league, probably most of you (reporters) didn’t think we’d be in this position.
“We had an opportunity to take two, but now we’re on home ice, the place should be rocking and it’s going to be fun.”
Before the series started there was a mini-controversy when Montreal centre Tomas Plekanec was quoted as saying that the Washington goalies were no Martin Brodeur or Ryan Miller (two of the leagues best) and that they “don’t have a dominant goaltender.” Caps goalie Jose Theodore cleverly shot back with “Tomas who? Jagr?”
It turned out that Theodore didn’t play badly in Game 1, but it was Plekanec who beat him in overtime.
The next game, Theodore let in his first two shots and was yanked after only 7:58 of play in favour of Semyon Varlamov, who was decent, but not Brodeur-esque, in stopping 19 of 22 shots for the win.
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau did not tip is hand on which goalie will start on Monday night and Martin never says who his goaltender will be until the day of a game, even if in this case it might have been good for Halak to be publicly given a vote of confidence. Instead, Martin said the team has confidence in both of its goalies, Halak and Carey Price.
Ovechkin didn’t stop at Halak, either. He also raised some eyebrows by saying that defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron, who he slammed with a crushing check early on, is “not that strong.”
These may be interpreted as slights and may once have gone up on locker room bulletin boards, but Cammalleri laughed them off.
“He’s in the gym now so maybe tell Ovechkin thanks because now he’s got Bergy working out more,” a grinning Cammalleri said.
And when asked if he ever saw Theodore shake, Cammalleri said: “He couldn’t break his stick when he came off the ice. Maybe Bergy and he should work out together. He tried to break it and it wouldn’t break.”
Cammalleri was clearly kidding. He said he likes that Ovechkin is expressive on the ice and outspoken off it.
“It’s good for the game,” he said. “He speaks his mind. I have no problem with that. I like a little flair in the game, so good for him. We’ll have some fun with it.
“It makes a bit of a soap opera out of it. It’s our version of whatever reality show you watch ? get the heroes and villains, as they say. And who is the hero and who is the villain now?”
Cammalleri believes that the day of dramatic pronouncements turning around a series are gone.
“It used to be so ‘don’t say anything,’ but I have no problems with personalities like Alex Ovechkin and the new era. A little individuality ? as long as your teammates appreciate it, that’s the important thing.
“Bulletin board material still happens, but it’s less of a statement now. It used to be ‘is that what he said, oh my god?’ Now it’s more like ‘yeah OK, that’s cool.’ You had (Mark) Messier and his guaranteed victory. Those were statements. Now if you do that it’s ‘who are you trying to be, Messier?’ It’s great if you win the next game. If you don’t it’s ‘well at least he wanted to win.’ It doesn’t make as much difference.”
The mood was loose among the Canadiens, who did not skate but held a team meeting and then went to the gym.
Gomez, one of the Canadiens who has won a Stanley Cup along with Brian Gionta, Travis Moen and Hal Gill, also drew some laughs when asked if he would counsel Halak on recovering from setbacks.
“I don’t know anything about goaltending, so I can’t talk to him,” he said. “Goaltenders are different, they’re wierdos, so I don’t think I can go up and make any sense to him. You’d need (courage) to go up to a goaltender and say what you think he should be doing different at this level, especially in the playoffs.
“Jaro and Price got us here. He’s always answered the bell.”