Jaroslav Halak, Montreal shocks Washington in Game 7

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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?