Jaroslav Halak, Montreal shocks Washington in Game 7


halak2.jpgThis is one of those games (and series) where you look for someone to blame. Was it as simple as “The Capitals couldn’t solve Jaroslav Halak?” Maybe you point to their “lack of experience” or question their intestinal fortitude? To be honest, I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that the world-beating Washington Capitals are first round losers to what was supposed to be a lowly Montreal Canadiens team.

Montreal Canadiens 2, Washington Capitals 1

Canadiens win the series 4-3

No doubt about it, Halak was the No. 1 factor. The Slovakian-born goalie stands to make himself bushels of bucks as a restricted free agent, standing on his head once again. There was quite a bit made of Alex Ovechkin’s comments about Halak’s “hand shaking” during Game 2 of the series, but the Capitals were ultimately the ones shaking their heads as he turned away shot after shot. Just soak in these totals from his last three games: three wins, 131 saves and only three goals allowed. Forgive hockey fans around the globe for spouting phrases marinated in hyperbole, because those are genuinely legendary numbers under extreme pressure.

Regardless of Halak’s genius, the Capitals must be disappointed in their performance. As much as they peppered Halak with shots, they didn’t do enough to score “the playoff way.” That way is by getting dirty: scoring off rebounds, deflections and ugly screens. Most playoff goals won’t get you on Sportscenter, but they might make you a winner.

This sets up a bizarre scenario in which all but one “underdog” won in the East. The new top seed – defending champion Pittsburgh – failed to win their division this season. They’ll host the Canadiens while the sixth-ranked Boston Bruins have home ice against the Philadelphia Flyers. So much for all of our “race to lose to the top seeds” jokes.

What’s next in Washington? That ought to be an interesting situation to watch, for sure. Some people were calling for coach Bruce Boudreau’s head, but that is difficult for me to imagine. I wrote that the Capitals are actually in a great salary cap situation going into the summer, so if they want to revamp their roster they certainly have the room to do so. Right now, though, these players, coaches and executives probably just want to bury their heads in the sand.

Is it hasty to wonder if there’s a President’s Trophy curse after the top seed stumbled in the first round in two straight years?

So, how would you protect a lead against the Stars?

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You know what they say: it’s easy to bash a strategy in hindsight.

Slam that NFL head coach for going for it on fourth down … or settling for the field goal. Bury that MLB manager because he kept a pitcher in too long. And so on.

“Score effects” settle in during almost any lopsided hockey game, yet the Dallas Stars present quite a conundrum: what’s the best way to put a way a team with this much firepower?

Tonight may have presented the greatest evidence that this team won’t go away easy, as it seemed like the Minnesota Wild had the best of a tired Stars team* when they built a 3-0 lead.

Instead, the Stars scored three third-period goals while Tyler Seguin capped the comeback with an overtime-winner.

It was one of those bend-and-then-break moments for Minnesota. Dallas generated a 44-26 shot advantage, including a ridiculous 35-15 edge in the final two periods.

Does that mean that Mike Yeo may have tried to play too conservatively with a healthy lead? It’s a possibility.

On the other hand, would the Wild be wiser to try to run-and-gun with one of the most dangerous offenses in the NHL?

It sure seems like a pick-your-poison situation. Which way would you lean, though?

* – To be fair to Minnesota, each team was on back-to-backs.

Price paid: Devils come back against Condon, Canadiens

Mike Condon, John Moore,
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If nothing else, the New Jersey Devils seem like they won’t be the sort of team a contender can essentially mark off as a “W” on their calendars.

The Montreal Canadiens may not be in a position to take opponents lightly with Carey Price on the shelf, but whatever the case may be, they saw their four-game winning streak end in frustrating fashion on Saturday.

After falling behind 2-0, the Devils scrapped their way back into it, eventually riding a John Moore overtime goal to a 3-2 OT win.

If Montreal needs an obvious bright side to look on considering this hiccup, Alex Galchenyuk‘s hot weekend may be a good thing to look at.

Tonight’s loss may smart a bit anyway, however.

Metro’s best? Capitals keep winning, pass Rangers for division lead

Jonathan Bernier; Matt Niskanen; Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau

If you want to summarize the Capitals – Maple Leafs game in one sentence, you could do worse than:

“Washington is hot as Jonathan Bernier is cold.”

The Caps reeled off a 4-2 win against Toronto on Saturday, giving them five straight wins. They also jumped into first place in the Metropolitan Division today, as they keep climbing while the New York Rangers are experiencing some growing pains.

Again, James Reimer can’t get healthy and back in Toronto’s net too soon:

With this win, Washington is now 17-5-1, leading the Metro by one point with 35 standings points. They also hold a game in hand against the Rangers, and no other Metro team even has 30 right now.

Measuring stick stretch begins

Tonight’s game began a “prove-it” month-and-change for Washington.

This contest began a three-game road trip, and they’ll also play six of seven away from Washington.

It’s pretty rough through the start of 2016, really. The Capitals will only enjoy three home games through Jan. 9.

In other words, the Capitals seem like a convincing East contender, but look out if they remain hot through the next 5-6 weeks.

Video: Evgeni Malkin leaves Oilers spinning


Yes, there’s a lot of drama surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins, whether it’s founded on serious problems or merely speculation.

It’s easy to get swept up in all of that and ignore the fact that, hey, they still have Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Those two can really heal wounds with their on-ice play, and in Saturday’s case, Malkin is taking over against the Edmonton Oilers.

His spin-o-rama goal above was a real jaw-dropper. He also scored Pittsburgh’s second tally:

These highlights feel like Malkin’s way of saying “It’s going to be just fine.”

Update: It wasn’t enough for a win, however, as the Oilers beat the Penguins 3-2 via a shootout.