Two of the past four Presidents’ Trophy-winning teams have lost in the first round of the playoffs and, thanks to a surprising 3-2 OT victory Thursday, the Montreal Canadiens are one step closer to making that stat three-of-five.
Despite absolutely dominating the Habs in the first frame – setting a franchise playoff record with 19 shots and not allowing a shot against until the 7:30 mark in the process – the Washington Capitals were only able to manage a 1-1 tie heading into the first intermission thanks mostly to an impressive goaltending display by Jaroslav Halak.
Not capitalizing on that domination would eventually come back to bite the Caps as the following 50-plus minutes would be evenly played, both on the ice and the scoreboard, until Tomas Plekanec ended the 2010 post-season’s first OT adventure by snapping a blocker-side wrister past Jose Theodore.
It was the ideal start for the underdog Bleu, Blanc et Rouge, who finished 33 points back of Washington in the standings and tallied 103 times less during the regular season.
Dreams of a 25th Stanley Cup will no doubt be dancing in the heads of the patrons celebrating on Crescent Street, but playing .500 hockey against the best team in the game to close out this series will be easier said than done.
That said, here are five thing the Canadiens must do, or continue to do, if they hope to continue their good fortune:
HUG A SLOVAK
If the 24-year-old wants a single plum, floating in perfume, served in a man’s hat, get it for him. Whatever it takes to keep Halak happy and playing like he did Thursday, the Habs should bend over backwards to make it happen. He’s the main reason for the 1-0 series lead. His poise between the pipes must continue for Montreal to have any shot. If he plays disinterested as he did at times down the stretch, it’s lights out.
FIND THE SANDPAPER
The Habs are a diminutive bunch for the most part, but they must find a way to get under the skin of the Capitals, many of whom are still young and subject to being thrown off their games or retaliating, resulting in a power play (where they scored their first goal and were second-best in the league during the regular season). A balance must be struck, however. The last thing that can happen is 4-on-4 hockey after coincidental minors. More ice benefits Washington in a big way.
OVIE, MEET YOUR SHADOW
If Alex Ovechkin is on the ice, Jaroslav Spacek must be, too. The 36-year-old was the second-best Hab in Game 1 and was masterful in his shutdown role. Ovechkin was held shotless for only the second time this season.
Questions about Theodore were way overblown heading into this series (the hiring of Arturs Irbe as goalie coach in Washington has revived the former Hart Trophy-winner’s career), but he does have a penchant for allowing a soft goal at inopportune times. Plekanec’s OT-winner was a a good shot, but…
STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES
Montreal cannot afford mental mistakes (like their too-many-men penalty in the second or Travis Moen’s boarding penalty on an icing play in the third) that result in Washington going up a man. Though they didn’t score with the advantage Thursday, the Caps own the league’s deadliest power play and providing them bonus chances is playing with fire.
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
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Edward Fraser is the managing editor of The Hockey News. His blog appears weekly.
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