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Halak?s 53 saves lead Habs to series-tying 4-1 win

by Dan Rosen
MONTREAL -- Washington's worst nightmare heading in the postseason was skating into a hot goalie. It had the potential to be the one thing that could keep the Capitals from advancing deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Well, Jaroslav Halak is real and he's the demon that the Caps can't get away from right now.


Halak was simply sublime Monday as he stopped 53 of 54 shots to lift Montreal to a 4-1 victory, forcing this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the best regular-season team in the NHL and one of the last teams to make the playoffs into a seventh game Wednesday night at Verizon Center in D.C.

Washington was hoping to avoid going the distance after taking a 3-1 lead in the series last week here at Bell Centre, but now it will host a Game 7 for the fourth straight series dating back to the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

The Capitals are 1-2 in those games. They are, however, 6-2 in elimination games under coach Bruce Boudreau dating back to that same 2008 series against Philadelphia.

"I think we played great and we just didn't score," said a still confident but definitely stunned Alex Ovechkin. "It's only one guy. They just score goals and go back and leave all the pressure for their goalie. He (did) an unbelievable job. What more can you say?"

Lifted by a pair of goals by Michael Cammalleri in the first 9:09 of the game, Halak was about perfect. His catching glove was unflappable and his rebound control, which was questionable at times during the series, was better than it had been.

Halak made point-blank saves time and again, including three during a key penalty kill early in the second period. He stopped Joe Corvo's blast from the high slot with a dazzling glove save, got his body across the crease to stone Alexander Semin on a one-timer and then stayed with Ovechkin to make the stop on a mini-breakaway.

After being pulled and booed roughly halfway through Game 3 when he gave up three goals in a span of four shots over seven-and-a-half minutes in the second period, Halak heard the 21,000-plus inside Bell Centre chanting his name Monday night.

Asked afterwards what words he would use to write the story of his performance, Halak said, "Another day in the office. That's what I would say."

It was more than that, way better.

Halak is the reason the Canadiens are not packing up their belongings and heading into the offseason. They looked dead after losing Game 4, 6-3, but Halak has stopped 90 of the last 92 shots he has faced.

"I thought he was above and beyond the call of duty," Cammalleri said of the goalie. "We expected and needed him to play a good game, but tonight was one of those superb performances. It'll be on ESPN or TSN Classic tomorrow."

Did Halak win the game for the Habs?

"No doubt about it," Cammalleri said. "No question in anybody's mind."

"He was the best player on the ice tonight, no doubt about it," added Josh Gorges.

Eighteen of Halak's saves Monday night came when the Capitals were trying to find a way to finally break through on the power play.

"He's our biggest killer and he was huge," defenseman Hal Gill said.

Yes, but it's also fair to say that now, after six games and 30 chances, the best power play during the regular season is broken and maybe -- just maybe -- beyond repair.

Washington has one goal on the power play in this series and failed to even get a shot on goal during a 5-on-3 for 75 seconds Monday night. Gill and Gorges were wonderful down low and the combination of Tomas Plekanec and Tom Pyatt was just as good up top to preserve the Habs' 2-0 lead late in the first period.

The Capitals were 0-for-6 on the power play Monday.

"It is really tough when you have a 5-on-3 and don't score on it," Capitals right wing Eric Fehr said. "That would have been huge for us to get it back to 2-1 and put us right back in the game. It is really tough to come back when you give away 5-on-3 opportunities."

Halak had to make 18 saves in the first period and another 14 in the second. If that wasn't enough, he faced 22 shots in the third period and, save for a redirection goal by Fehr that he really had no chance on, he stopped every one of them that he could.

He made a sharp right pad save on an Ovechkin one-timer, glove stops on Mike Green and John Carlson, and a sprawling stop on Tomas Fleischmann that had he lifted the puck might have gone in.

"Yeah, I was tired at the end of the game," Halak said. "Good thing we didn't have to go to overtime."

Corvo finished with a game-high 10 shots on goal, but nothing to show for it. Ovechkin was 0-for-8. Alexander Semin was 0-for-7 and now doesn't have a goal in 13 straight playoff games. Green and Brooks Laich were each 0-for-6. 

They weren't terrible shots either. Halak was just too good.

"We got great looks and we missed chances, but how much is it him and how much is it us missing?" Boudreau said. "I think it is more him than us."

The Capitals, though, didn't help themselves by giving up two goals within the first 10 minutes for the second straight game. Cammalleri scored two just 99 seconds apart on shots from the right circle that beat goalie Semyon Varlamov on the blocker side.

Montreal finally got the insurance goal it needed when Maxim Lapierre, who was guilty on two of the Habs' three rare diving penalties, scored off a harmless looking shot from the right side that this time snuck by Varlamov's glove hand.

Fehr cut it to 3-1 when he redirected Green's point shot with 4:50 left, but Plekanec finished it off with an empty-netter, his fourth goal of the series, with 57 seconds left.

"I don't know what more to say than wow," Gorges said of Halak. "He was spectacular. That's one of the best performance I've ever seen."

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Shift of the game: Leading 2-0 lead in the first period, Montreal had to kill off a 5-on-3 for 1:15 after Roman Hamrlik shot the puck over the glass. The Habs did just that thanks to excellent work from defensemen Hal Gill and Josh Gorges and forwards Tomas Plekanec and Tom Pyatt, who split time to help kill it off. Gill and Gorges each had key blocks and Plekanec forced the puck down to the other end of the ice. Gill also redirected a pass to the slot. With the 5-on-3 killed off, the Habs also killed off the subsequent 5-on-4 thanks to a clear by Gionta and two saves by Jaroslav Halak.

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