WASHINGTON – How nervous does Jaroslav Halak look now?
After a one-game absence Halak came back with 37 saves to allow the Montreal Canadiens to stave off elimination with a 2-1 victory Friday over the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final.
Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin suggested Halak looked nervous when his hand shook while drinking water after allowing a goal in a Game 2 loss, the last time these two teams were at the Verizon Center.
But there were no signs of nerves on this night as the Canadiens goalie stole the game and gave Montreal a chance to play Game 6 on Monday night in front of their rabid fans at the Bell Centre.
“You know what? He can say what he wants,” Halak said when asked to address Ovechkin?s earlier comments. “If you squeeze the bottle, your hand’s going to shake. That’s what I think. I don’t think I was nervous. It was the same thing tonight, and I was squeezing the bottle the same way.”
Mike Cammalleri and Travis Moen scored in the first period for the Canadiens, who still trail the best-of-seven series three games to two.
“I liked our hunger, I liked our desperation,” said Cammalleri, who is the only Canadiens player to get a point in all five games of the series. “It felt like we wanted to make sure we got to go home to play another one.”
Ovechkin scored for the Capitals, giving him 16 goals in his last 16 playoff games.
That was all the Capitals could muster on Halak, who played brilliantly to allow the Canadiens to steal the game.
Halak was pulled in Game 3 after allowing eight goals on his previous 30 shots, and he watched Game 4 as Carey Price got the start and allowed four goals in a 6-3 loss.
But Halak came back with an effort as strong as Game 1, when his 45 saves allowed the Canadiens to steal a 3-2 overtime win in this same building.
“Our mindset was that it could have been our last game of the season, so everybody started with a lot of energy,” Halak said. “We scored two goals in the first and after that we were doing what we were supposed to.”
Halak was at his best in the third period with 12 saves, including big ones on Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann on an early power play, and robbing Ovechkin on one of his trademark rushes down the left wing midway through the period.
“That was one of those ball hockey, throw the blocker out, amazing reaction saves,” Cammalleri said of the stop on Semin. “That was a statement for him.”
Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin made a minor tweak by placing Moen on a line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, taking the spot of Benoit Pouliot. It paid off in a big way.
“I think Travis gave us a big game tonight,” Martin said. “He brought a physical dimension to that line.”
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau was not pleased with his team squandering a chance to put the Canadiens away at home, and he called out his offensive stars to put the blame on them.
“(Halak) played very good, there’s no doubt,” he said. “But we missed some really good looks. When you have players who are really good scorers and they miss really good looks, it’s like a checker not doing his job. They’ve got to score those goals.”
The Canadiens got the start they needed, scoring twice on their first five shots to grab a 2-0 lead in the first.
Cammalleri quickly got Montreal on the board, converting a blind backhand pass from Andrei Markov with a wrist shot high to the stick side on Semyon Varlamov at 1:30 for his third of the playoffs.
Brian Gionta found Moen alone in the slot and he scored on a nifty backhand for his first of the playoffs at 7:01.
“We needed to change something up and Moen did a great job,” Gionta said. “He was going hard to the net, opened up a lot of space for us and he was obviously rewarded for it.”
Halak had to be sharp in the first to allow the Canadiens to enter the first intermission with a 2-0 lead, particularly when he stopped Semin on a dangerous wrister from the slot and again later in the shift on a great chance at the side of the net.
Semin remains without a goal in the series after scoring 40 in the regular season.
“He did put in a better effort than the three or four previous games,” Boudreau said of his snake-bitten star. “But if we don’t get him scoring it’s too easy to check certain guys. He’s got to come through.”
The Capitals did not wait long in the second to cut the deficit in half. Rookie sensation John Carlson put a point shot on net andMike Knuble took a swipe at the rebound in front before Ovechkin poked it home at 3:52 for his fifth of the playoffs.
But Halak and the Canadiens held the fort the rest of the way, heading into the third up 2-1.
Montreal appeared content to protect that lead in the final frame, generating little on attack and sitting back in the neutral zone to wait for the Capitals. Martin severely shortened his bench as Pouliot only got three shifts in the final period, Roman Hamrlik got two, Glen Metropolit and Sergei Kostitsyn got one apiece while Marc-Andre Bergeron didn’t get any.
“Our main focus was not to give them the opportunities, to make them try and earn it, make them go through guys and go 200 feet to get chances,” Cammalleri said. “We wanted to stay on the forecheck as much as we could, but we wanted to play a big error-free period.”
The strategy worked, but largely because of the guy in the Canadiens net.
Notes:The Canadiens scratched forwards Ben Maxwell and Mathieu Darche, while defenceman Jaroslav Spacek missed his second game with an illness. . . Capitals defenceman Shaone Morrisonn missed his second game with an undisclosed injury. Tyler Sloan took his spot in the lineup for a second straight game. . . Scott Walker, Quintin Laing, David Steckel and John Erskine were scratched for Washington. . . It was the first game in series Nicklas Backstrom was held off the scoresheet. He had five goals and four assists in the first four games. . . The two top power play teams from the regular season combined to go 0-for-10 with the man advantage, with five opportunities apiece. . . This was the ninth time the Capitals franchise has led a series 3-1, but their all-time record fell to 2-7 in Game 5 of those series. History doesn’t bode well for the Capitals future, either, as the team has gone on to lose the series in three of the previous six times they lost that fifth game.