How, you ask, did the Capitals lose this one? How did the Presidents' Trophy winner, the first team to earn a playoff spot this season, fall to a lowly eighth seed? How did the Caps give up a 3-1 series lead? How couldn't the league's most dynamic offense score more despite outshooting their opponent by almost 100 shots (292 to 194)?
Of course, the simple answer goes by the name of
It wasn't easy, but Halak sure made it look that way, didn't he? After a dazzling Game 6, in which he made 53 saves and pushed the Capitals to a decisive do-or-die match, the goalie who had no playoff wins on his résumé two weeks ago punched a ticket to the second round in perhaps the most stunning upset since the L.A. Kings knocked off the Edmonton Oilers in 1982. With the help of a stalwart defense that blocked almost as many shots as they let through on Wednesday night, Halak earned some serious cred around the league, and made those rumors about his possible trade out of Montreal back in December and January just seem silly.
About as silly as those words Ovechkin served up after Game 2, when the Capitals scored six goals on 37 shots in an exciting 6-5 OT win. "I watched the replay when [
"Our goaltender was really outstanding in the end, and probably made the difference," Montreal coach
While Halak's performance made the upset possible, it was the team around him that made it happen. Clearing pucks around the crease, skillfully blocking shots with pressure instead of blinding screens, the Canadiens offered more evidence to support the old sports adage, "Offense wins games; defense wins championships."
That's what Blue Jackets forward
But there is that part about the power play. The Capitals' unit, once an unstoppable force that scored at a 25.4 percent clip during in the regular season, was absolutely abysmal, going 1-for-33 against the Canadiens this series. That's a 3.0 percent success rate, and that's legitimately the worst playoff power play percentage for any team with at least 30 man-advantage looks. So while Washington will bemoan the iffy goalie interference call on Ovechkin's waved-off goal in the first minute of the third period, they can't deny the chances they were afforded throughout the series and the chances that they couldn't convert on. Superior penalty killing, particularly on the parts of big man
Gill and Gorges did seem to show in the final games that they had figured Ovechkin out. After the two-time Hart Trophy winner was kept shotless in Game 1, largely because of
"In the end, it's not [only Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom that have to carry the team] because you can take certain guys away," Washington coach
So, does all this really explain how the Washington Capitals lost their Stanley Cup hopes? No, not entirely. But isn't that just the beauty of playoff hockey? No one really knows how these things happen at all.