It says here that your best players need to be your best players.
And last night, the Canadiens were led by their best players, beating the Washington Capitals 3-2 in overtime to take the opening game in their first-round playoff series, at the Verizon Center.
Who would have thunk it.
Let’s start in goal, where it often starts, and ends, come playoff time, and Jaroslav Halak. Halak looked downright nervous in the regular-season finale against the Maple Leafs, when the Canadiens squeezed out a point in an overtime loss to squeeze into the playoffs. Last night, Halak was simply sensational, as he tends to be when he gets a lot of work.
He was plenty busy last night, facing 47 shots, 19 of them in a first period which saw the Capitals skate circles around the Canadiens. But it was a first period which saw the Canadiens emerge with a 1-all tie, thanks to Halak, and a goal by Mike Camalleri.
Mike Camalleri: another one of this team’s best players. Not lately, mind you. Not when you’re being counted on to put the puck in the net. Yes, it has been a long road back from injury for Camalleri. And yes, he’s had plenty of chances. But you can’t pay the bills with “chances.” And last night he put one passed Jose Theodore from the faceoff circle, on the power play, to open the scoring for the Canadiens. A huge goal for both Camalleri, and the team.
After a scoreless, but very good, second period (for the Habs), the Capitals were the ones who pulled ahead 47 seconds into period number three with what could have been classified as a backbreaking goal by Nick Backstrom. However, it wasn’t. That’s because Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Benoit Pouliot combined on a lovely tick-tack-toe play, with Gomez converting the tip-in, to tie this one, and set the stage for overtime.
It’s way too easy to dump on a guy who is making eight million dollars to score just 12 goals, as was the case this season. And 59 points certainly isn’t anything to write home about. But don’t blame Gomez for that fat salary of his. Blame the New York Rangers for throwing all that free-agent money at him. As far as his point totals are concerned, those numbers are right around what you’d expect Gomez to deliver at this point in his career: no more, no less.
Last night, Gomez delivered the goods, skating miles on those 30-year-old legs of his. He was dangerous every time he had his stick on the puck and mystified the Capital defenders with his handywork. He was the Scott Gomez that Bob Gainey traded for, and then built this team around, during the off-season.
And then there was Tomas Plekanec, who got into Jose Theodore’s head, and his net, scoring the winning goal at 13:19 of O.T. It was Theodore who called out “Tomas Who? Tomas Jagr?” when Plekanec pointed out that, with all due respect, the Washignton Capitals aren’t exactly the Buffalo Sabres or New Jersey Devils in the goaltending department. It wasn’t exactly a war of words, but it added an interesting wrinkle going into last night’s game.
But was Plekanec who had the last laugh, beating Theodore stick side from a shot that goaltenders are paid to stop. This was not the same Tomas Plekanec who, as he put it, “played like a little girl”, in the playoffs two seasons ago for the Canadiens. This was the Tomas Plekanec who brought a swagger to his game this year, and kept that swagger going through73 minutes and 19 seconds of hockey last night.
Throw in a terrific performance by four-liners like Mathieu Darche and Tom Pyatt, yeoman work along the blueline by the likes of Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, and you have a recipe for success. Of course, keeping Alexander Ovechkin off the scoresheet, didn’t hurt. In fact, Ovechkin failed to get a shot on goal for the first time this season.
You know THAT’S not going to happen again in this playoff.
Listen. One win does not a series make. But it certainly gives Bruce Boudreau and company something to think about heading into game two tomorrow night.