His Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals probably weren’t even considering the possibility of dealing with another Game 7 when they took a 3-1 series lead over the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the first round this year.
And yet here they are, due in large part to spectacular goaltending by Montreal’s Jaroslav Halak: The Capitals host the Canadiens on Wednesday night, with the stakes quite clear.
“One team is going to be (going on) vacation,” Ovechkin said with a smile Tuesday, “and, you know, I don’t want to think about vacation right now.”
The Capitals went 1-2 in Game 7s over the previous two seasons — all at home. This time, they’re facing a Canadiens club that won the series’ last two games as Halak stopped 90 of 92 shots.
“He bailed us out,” Canadiens forward Brian Gionta said, “and this time of year, that’s what it’s all about. You get a goalie who stands on his head for a game or two, it changes a lot of momentum in the series.”
In Montreal’s 4-1 victory at home Monday night, Halak made 53 saves, and Ovechkin was held without a goal or an assist for the second time this postseason.
All eyes will be on those two players Wednesday.
This Game 7, according to Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, is “another opportunity for (Ovechkin’s) reputation to grow. I mean, people love Alex Ovechkin stories, and if he was to rise to the occasion — and I know he will mentally; hopefully he can on the ice — then everybody will build that up probably twice as much as it should have been. And if he doesn’t succeed, they’ll build it up twice as much as it should have been in that respect, too.”
Boudreau and several of his players insisted that they are not intimidated by Halak or worried that they simply cannot score on him.
“I bet you, if you ask Alex, he still thinks he’s going to score a goal,” Boudreau said. “He thinks he’s going to score every game.”
If that truly is not an issue for the Capitals, there are several other worries for a team that led the NHL in goals and power-play percentage during the regular season:
— Washington is only 1 for 30 with a man-advantage in this series after going 0 for 6 on Monday;
— The Capitals will be without defenseman Tom Poti, who was hit in the eye by a puck in Game 6 and could wind up being sidelined for two or three weeks — or longer — if the team stays in the playoffs;
— Alexander Semin, second to Ovechkin on Washington’s roster with 40 goals, has taken more shots than anyone in the league this postseason but is still without a goal, and Mike Green, the league’s top-scoring defenseman, also has yet to put the puck in the net;
— Montreal has won two of its three road games in this series, and also won one of two regular-season meetings at Washington.
“Without a doubt,” Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said, “the pressure is on the best team, the team that finished first in the league this year. But it’s still one game, and we’re excited to take part in this game.”
Both coaches made goalie switches in the series. Martin yanked Halak during Game 3, replacing him with Carey Price, who started Game 4. But Martin went back to Halak in Game 5, and, well, that’s worked out.
“We threw everything at him,” Green said about Game 6, “and he stole the game for them.”
Boudreau pulled Jose Theodore after he allowed two goals on Montreal’s first two shots of Game 2, and has stuck with Semyon Varlamov since then. Boudreau wouldn’t reveal Tuesday who will start in Washington’s net for Game 7 — he did acknowledge considering a change to Theodore during Game 6 — although he seemed to indicate he’ll go with Varlamov.
Asked whether Varlamov’s play in a Game 7, second-round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins a year ago — the Russian let in four goals on 18 shots and left in the second period — would factor into his decision, Boudreau said, “No, but his play in Game 7 against the Rangers might.”
Varlamov allowed only one goal in that series-deciding victory in last season’s first round.
Whoever is in goal for the Capitals, Ovechkin and Co. know they’ll need to fare better at the other end of the ice against Halak than they have the past two games.
“We don’t want it to be the last game … of the year,” Ovechkin said. “We want to continue.”