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Capitals-Canadiens 5 keys to victory in Game 7

by Dan Rosen
1. Solid first 10
They don't necessarily have to take a lead, but how about not giving up two goals in the first 10 minutes for a change? The Canadiens have scored within the first 9:09 in each of
the last two games and it changes everything about the contest. As Capitals right wing Eric Fehr said, when Montreal has the lead it can sit back and play what is, in effect, a neutral-zone trap. When the Habs are trailing, they can't sit back because they have to score and that usually opens space for the Capitals to work their magic. Washington has to get out of the first 10 minutes without giving up a goal, and scoring first Wednesday night is just as imperative.
1. Another Roy-like game from Halak
Montreal might need another stunning performance from its Slovak goalie to beat the Capitals, and by now he's certainly proven he can do it. But can he do it one more time? It
would be something, that's for sure. Halak has stopped 90 of 92 shots over the last two games to lift his team back into this series. The Capitals say he's not in their heads and they're not thinking about him, but every player in Washington's locker room Monday night was crediting Halak -- and only Halak -- for Montreal's win. If he's not in their heads, than how come the Capitals are saying Halak was the only reason Montreal won?
2. Perseverance
It took their 51st shot to finally score on Halak in Game 6. Hopefully for the Caps it doesn't take that long in Game 7, but no matter what they have to keep firing away at
the Habs' net and hope the dam breaks at some point. The key, as Mike Green pointed out Tuesday, is getting traffic in front of Halak. They scored in Game 6 when Green's shot was re-directed by Fehr right at the doorstep. If no one is in front of Halak, he's proven he's going to stop the puck.
2. More sublime penalty killing
Coach Bruce Boudreau and captain Alex Ovechkin get asked about the Caps' broken power play every day now, and they keep saying it's because they're not doing enough
to score goals, they're trying to be too cute and they aren't gritty enough. What we haven't heard is either Boudreau or Ovechkin complement the Canadiens on what has been a marvelous penalty kill. Washington is 1-for-30 on the power play, but that means the Canadiens are 29-for-30 on the penalty kill. They were downright spectacular during a three-on-five for 75 seconds in the first period Monday, and that probably was the turning point in the game. The Habs are giving themselves a chance to win with their penalty kill.
3. A power play goal
Imagine, if you will, that the Capitals got a power-play goal in Game 7. Now, imagine if it came early in the game -- say, the first
period. It might be hard to do right about now considering the Capitals are 1-for-30 on the power play in this series, but what a huge lift it would give the team to get one in the most important game of the series. This was the League's best power play in the regular season and it's seriously broken right now. There's no better time to fix it than the present. If not, they might not get another chance to score a power-play goal until October.
3. Better puck possession
As good as Halak has been, 54 shots on goal are way too many to give up in one game, and the Canadiens know it. Asked late Monday
night how the Habs are keeping the Capitals down, Michael Cammalleri answered honestly by saying that they're not. He's right. Washington is getting too many quality chances and eventually they're going to start going in the net. It wouldn't be wrong to predict for that to happen Wednesday because you have to wonder how long players like Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble and Mike Green can be held down. The Habs have to limit the chances the Capitals get because it could be the end of them if they don't.
4. A goal from Semin and/or Fleischmann
Similar to the power play, a goal from Semin or Fleischmann in Game 7 may not be an absolute must-have for the Caps to win, but boy would that ignite them. Semin scored 40
goals in the regular season, but now has gone 13 straight playoff games without scoring. Fleischmann had 23 goals in the regular season, but has just 3 goals in 22 career playoff games. Semin leads all players in the playoffs with 36 shots on goal, but he is tied for last in goals with a big fat zero. Fleischmann has eight shots in the series, but his last two have been splendid chances that he just missed on. An interesting stat about Semin is this year he went six straight games without a goal twice, but he broke out of both slumps with 2 goals in the seventh game. Well, he's gone six straight games without a goal now, so does he have a pair on his stick Wednesday night?
4. Protection for the goalie
If the Capitals, as everyone expects, crash the net hard Wednesday, the Canadiens better have some bodies there to protect Halak. One way to rattle a hot goalie is to get into his
kitchen and frustrate him, force him to retaliate and perhaps even take an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. That'll get him out of his zone in a heartbeat. Players like Knuble, Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera will run over Halak if given the chance. It might even be worth taking a goalie-interference penalty if it happens early in the game. You always want to protect your best asset, and Montreal has none better right now than Halak.
5. The timely saves
For two games rookie Semyon Varlamov has been good, but not great. He has made
several important saves, but not the key one at the right time. If Varlamov plays -- and Boudreau on Tuesday gave enough hints to make everyone think he will -- he can't give up a soft goal like the one he gave to Michael Cammalleri 9:09 into the game Monday. Similarly, he has to find a way to stop the Canadiens when they get an early good look from the slot like Travis Moen got in Game 5. These are not easy saves to make, but they are the ones goalies have to stop in order to give their team a chance. Again, Varlamov has been effective in this series, but effective isn't good enough when the goalie on the other end is lights-out.
5. The early lead
They've jumped out to 2-0 leads before 10 minutes expired in each of the last two games
and they won them both. This is not just a coincidence. The Canadiens obviously play better with the lead; what team doesn't? But when they've gotten the early lead in this series they have been able to go into a 1-2-2 trap, and that has at least limited some of the good looks the Capitals could be getting at the net. When Washington gets a lead, the Canadiens have to start pressing for a goal and that means they can't play that 1-2-2, so the Capitals can find holes and counterattack with odd-man rushes and the like. It's more imperative for the Habs to get an early lead than it is for the Capitals because Washington has shown its resiliency all season long, and already once in this series, when they came back from a 4-1 deficit in Game 2 to win 6-5 in overtime.

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