So here we are again, about to witness what is possibly the most difficult to predict event in any sport. Home or away, higher seed or lower, momentum or not, favorite or underdog, none of it seems to matter when it comes to Game 7 of a Stanley Cup playoff series. The Caps are here for the forth time in three years, having been pushed to the brink by a Montreal Canadiens team, riding the suddenly scorching hot glove (also stick, blocker, left pad and right pad for that matter) of Jaroslav Halak. The Caps have had back to back chances to finish off this Canadiens team. In Game 5, they blew it with a slow start. They somehow underestimated a Montreal team that came out playing like they had nothing to lose. When the Caps finally got it together, they dominated, but were stonewalled by a quickly simmering Halak.
The Capitals played perhaps their best first period of the series on Monday but with Halak suddenly possessed by the spirit Ken Dryden they found themselves down 2-0 after one. And with every sparkling save Halak made, Alex Ovechkin and his running mates gripped their sticks a little tighter. They passed, passed, passed and passed some more on the power play. They came to believe that only the perfect shot could beat this wunderkind. But of course after 54 shots were fired Halak’s way the only one that did find its way past the keeper was the one that had no business going on in. It was a shot that was headed wide but redirected by the stick of Eric Fehr. It was a shot that no goalie, not even this one, could stop. It was the type of goal that seems fluky but in reality is the result of hard work and determination. It is the type of goal that wins playoff series.
This is why if the Caps are going to win this Game 7 they have to heed the lessons of the previous two. The Caps cannot get off to another slow start. More times than I’d like to remember this year, this team has not played a complete 60 minutes but still comeback in spectacular fashion to win. But my heart (and my furniture) would prefer the Caps did not pull another Game 2. That would be playing with fire.
Speaking of fire, if Halak plays another game like Game 6. The Caps are finished. It’s over. The best way to prevent that from happening is to make Halak feel like the walls are closing in on him. Mike Knuble needs to reintroduce his rear end to Halak’s grill. Jason Chimera needs to take his blazing speed towards the net. Brooks Laich needs to remember where you go if you want goals. They need to get Halak off his game and out of the zone he was in in Game 6.
It seemed like luck was on the Canadiens side in Game 6. All the bounces were going Montreal’s way. On one side, every shot found its way off a Capital’s stick and passed Semyon Varlamov. And on the other side, every rebound found its way over or around those same sticks. But I believe you make your own luck in sports. A wise man once said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. That was the Canadiens in Game 6. But like Professor Backstrom said before OT in Game 2, “I think it’s our turn.”