WASHINGTON -- Jaroslav Halak happened again, and this time Montreal's machine in net delivered the death blow to a once-promising Washington Capitals' season.
Halak finished Game 7 Wednesday with 41 saves and Montreal needed every one of them as the Canadiens struck gold in the other nation's capital with a 2-1 victory to stun the Presidents' Trophy winners in front of their own red-rocking fans at Verizon Center.
Marc-Andre Bergeron scored a 4-on-3 power-play goal with 29.1 seconds left in the first period, but Dominic Moore's goal with 3:36 left in the game proved to be the difference as the Canadiens rode Halak's brilliance and their own courageous shot blocking to become the first eight-seed in NHL history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series.
Montreal starts the Eastern Conference Semifinal in Pittsburgh on Friday.
"I think before the series started, no one gave us a chance to win, not even one game," Halak said. "We proved them wrong. We showed a lot of fight after being down 3-1."
Moore scooped up a loose puck in the right circle after a dump-in by Hal Gill and beat Semyon Varlamov (14 saves) to the stick side. At the time it looked like it would only be an insurance goal, but Brooks Laich shoveled home a rebound 80 seconds later to slice the deficit in half and turn Moore's goal into the winner.
The Capitals got a power play with 1:44 left in regulation when Ryan O'Byrne was called for a high-sticking penalty -- but like 31 other times in the series, they couldn't score. They even had a 6-on-4 advantage because coach Bruce Boudreau pulled Varlamov. It didn't matter
Washington finished the series with one goal on 33 power-play chances and a combined three goals in Games 5-7. They Caps won the Presidents' Trophy largely because they scored 313 goals, 45 more than any other team, and had the best power play at 25.2 percent.
"I think us guys who are on the power play, we have to take blame," Nicklas Backstrom said. "Bruce told us what to do and sometimes we didn't do that and we didn't work hard enough. That's us as players who weren't good enough there."
The Capitals almost tied Game 7 at 1-1 just 24 seconds into the third period. Ovechkin beat Halak from the left circle was waved off because Mike Knuble was called for being in the crease. He touched Halak with his leg with Hal Gill in front of him.
Boudreau went ballistic, but he couldn't do or say anything to change the call by referee Brad Watson. According to Rule 78.5 in the Official NHL Rulebook, an apparent goal shall be disallowed "when an attacking player has interfered with a goalkeeper in his goal crease."
"It feels like you're whining if you say things negative, but that was a pretty tough one to take," Boudreau said.
Just as he was in Games 5 and 6, Halak was the difference in Game 7. He made 17 of his saves in the third period and stopped 131 of the 134 shots he saw in Games 5-7. And, remember, he was pulled 8:33 into the second period of Game 3.
"Coach decided to pull me in Game 3 and not to play me (in Game 4), but it's the playoffs," Halak said. "We needed to win the games. After we were trailing 3-1, I said to myself, 'We've got nothing to lose. Just try to do your best and have fun.' "
The Canadiens were great in front of Halak on Wednesday. They blocked 41 shots, a number that Boudreau said he's never seen in a 60-minute game. For perspective, Montreal attempted only 38 shots on goal during the entire game.
"That's playoff hockey," Habs coach Jacques Martin said. "It's a commitment by the players. They know at this time of the year you've got to do everything in your power to win games."
Montreal scored only eight goals in the last three games and had only 16 shots in Game 7, but it didn't matter because Halak was channeling his inner Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden to win over the hearts of Habs fans everywhere.
He made 37 saves in Game 5, another 53 saves in Game 6 and 41 more in Game 7.
"Jaro won us Game 6," Brian Gionta said, "and (Wednesday night) was a total team effort."
The Canadiens won the series largely because of Halak and their penalty killers, but that meant they stymied the Capitals' best players.
Alexander Semin, who had 40 goals in the regular season, didn't score a single one during the seven-game series despite leading the League in shots on goal with 44. He was 0-for-8 Wednesday night.
Ovechkin finished the series with 5 goals and 5 assists, but he was shut out in the last two games on 18 shots, including 10 in Game 7. He also didn't have a point or a shot in Montreal's overtime win in Game 1.
Green, a Norris Trophy finalist, produced only 3 assists in the series after scoring 19 goals and dishing out 57 assists during the regular season. His offensive-zone cross-checking penalty on Andrei Markov led to Bergeron's goal, and he was one of the defensemen beaten on Moore's goal. John Carlson also should have gotten back in the zone faster to stop Moore.
"A lot of guys care," summed up Michael Cammalleri, who led the Habs with 10 points in the series. "A lot of guys wanted to keep playing hockey."
A lot of those guys were not on the Canadiens roster last season. Twelve of the Habs' 20 goals in the series were scored by players that played elsewhere last season.
The list of fresh faces that became part of the Canadiens' storied history this year includes Gill, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Travis Moen -- the only four players on the Canadiens roster who have won the Stanley Cup.
"We brought in guys that are winners," Habs center Glen Metropolit said. "Gomez knows how to win. Gio, Cammy's a great player, Hal, obviously. We got the right mix of guys."
Washington would have taken a scoreless first period Wednesday, especially after giving up two goals within the first 10 minutes of each of the past two games. It didn't happen because Green took a bad cross-checking penalty on Markov and Bergeron cashed in.
"It was well-deserved," Boudreau said when asked about Green's penalty. "He deserved it."
Just as the Canadiens deserved to win the series.
They didn't dominate the play and they were outshot 292-194, but they outscored the Caps 9-3 in the first period and killed off 32 power plays.
Plus, Montreal had Halak and the Capitals did not.
"We knew right off the bat (that we could win the series)," Gionta said. "We played them hard the first four games. Even though we weren't up in the series, we were happy with how we played. We knew we could do some things better and bring it to them. We knew we could win."
Shift of the game: Montreal had already killed off 31 of 32 power plays in the series, but it needed one more to seal the deal. The Canadiens went shorthanded with 1:44 left on Ryan O'Byrne's high-sticking penalty. They did, but Jaroslav Halak had to come up with one solid right pad save to make it happen.
1 - 0 MTL
2 - 0 MTL