Do the Montreal Canadiens have what it takes, to force a game seven in their first-round playoff against the Washington Capitals?
Few hockey observers figured the Canadiens would be able to take this series to a game six, never mind a game seven. But that’s exactly what they did. The Habs walked into the Verizon Centre Friday night and came away with a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals.
If nothing else, the Canadiens have sewn some seeds of doubt into head coach Bruce Boudreau and his players, while at the same time, re-establishing the concept that the Habs can indeed beat this Washington Capitals club.
But can they do it again tomorrow night?
First and foremost, the Habs are going to need another outstanding performance from Jaroslav Halak, if we can take a leap of faith and assume Halak will get the call. They need Halak to come up big as he did in Game 1 in Washington and again in Game 5 in Washington. But they need him to come up big at home, where the Canadiens have struggled in recent seasons. They weren’t able to get the job done at home in second-round action against the Flyers two years ago; they weren’t able to get the job done in first-round action against the Bruins one year ago; and they haven’t been able to get the job done at home against the Capitals this season.
We’ve heard a lot about pressure in this series, and how the pressure is now on the Capitals to make good on the expectations that they took into post-season play as a result of their first-place finish in the Eastern Conference. And how there is no pressure on the Canadiens, who barely squeezed into the playoffs as the 8th seed in the East and were never expected to give the Caps a run for their money.
I’m here to tell you that’s bullsh*t.
The pressure in squarely on the Canadiens. Why? Do the math. As much as they want to avoid going seven games with the Canadiens, the Capitals will still be alive and kicking, even if they lose tomorrow night. If the Habs lose tomorrow night, it’s game over, and season over.
So can you sit there all you want and tell me that the pressure is on the Capitals. However, the pressure is on the Canadiens to take this series to a seventh game. You don’t get brownie points for walking into Washington and beating the Capitals in a game five situation. You get the opportunity to play another hockey game. And the Canadiens earned that opportunity Friday night.
If the Habs hang tough against the Capitals tomorrow night but finish up on the short end of the scoreboard and come away with nothing but a moral victory, where will that leave the Canadiens?
On the sidelines and out of the playoffs. That is the cold, hard reality that the Canadiens face right now. If that’s not pressure in this playoff environment, than what is?
Yes, there will be the temptation to look back at this series and ask, “What if?” What if the Canadiens were able to hang on to that three-goal lead in game two? What if the Canadiens were able to emerge from period number two in game four with a lead, instead of giving up the tieing goal, a shorthanded goal, no less, in the dieing minutes of that period.
What if, indeed.
How about asking the following questions, instead?
Will Jaroslav Spacek be good to go tomorrow night after sitting out with a virus? Will the Canadiens be forced to endure another night with Marc-Andrei Bergeron patrolling the blueline? Will the line of Gionta-Gomez-Moen pick up where they left off? Will Sergei Kostitsyn and/or Benoit Pouliot watch tomorrow night’s game at the Bell Centre from the press box as a result of their ongoing lazy play? Will Ryan O’Byrne get more of the minutes he deserves? Will the Canadiens be able to continue to keep players like Alexander Semin in check, and stop Alexander Ovechkin from taking matters into his own hands, like only players like Ovechkin can?
Will the Montreal Canadiens be able to finally win a playoff game at home and take this series to a seventh game in Washington???