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WASHINGTON -- Here are our keys to tonight's Game 7 for the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals:
2. Jaroslav Halak: The Montreal netminder has looked anything but shaky in the past two games, stopping 90 of 92 pucks. Has he been lucky? Sure. What successful playoff goalie isn't? Halak acknowledged after Game 6 that you never know what will happen with bad bounces. But for a guy who was yanked in Game 2 and benched for Games 3 and 4 before being reinstalled as team savior in Games 5 and 6, Halak's confidence must be at an all-time high. If he finds a similar zone in Game 7, the Habs will be in good shape.
Boudreau said he has faced goalies like that in the past, and it's frustrating.
"You want to take a stick and hit them over the head with it, but I can't do that," Boudreau joked.
Is the Capitals' coach concerned that Halak might have gotten into his shooters' kitchens?
"If he plays another game like that [Game 6], it is [a concern]," Boudreau said Tuesday. "Obviously, if he stops 54 shots tomorrow night, there's a good chance Montreal is going to win."
3. "Skillsy": That's what the Habs call Hal Gill, a play on his name and the fact that he is less than graceful on the ice. But you know what? In this series, he looks a lot like the same rocklike presence he was in Pittsburgh in the previous two postseasons. During a crucial 5-on-3 in Game 6 that lasted 1 minute, 15 seconds, Gill was a wall, deflecting passes and disrupting plays in front of the Montreal goal. If Alex Ovechkin has been frustrated in parts of this series, we are guessing those moments have happened most often when Gill was on the ice.
4. Penalty killing: A lot of things go into successfully shutting down a top power play. You need to be positionally sound; you need to be willing to block shots and clutter the shooting lanes; and you need a goalie to play out of his mind. All those things have been happening for the Canadiens, who have shut down the Capitals' vaunted power play. The Caps are 1-for-30 with the man advantage in this series and have scored just one power-play goal in their past eight games dating back to the regular season.
At this stage, the failure to produce appears to have taken up residence in the Caps' brains, and that's a good thing for the Habs. A point to consider: Four of the five least productive power-play units of the 16 playoff teams (Nashville Predators, Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils) already have been eliminated. The fifth team? Washington.
5. Another PK: Another "P.K." might be a factor in this deciding game: P.K. Subban. We know; he's a kid who got called up from the minors and played his first NHL playoff game Monday night. How big an impact could he have? Well, in the 10 minutes, 2 seconds he played, Subban was dynamic. He carried the puck, made brave passes and didn't shy away from the moment. When he was on the ice, the Habs seemed energized. They will need to be energized Wednesday night.
"You don't get frustrated. You believe in the talent that you have, the players that we have in this room, and you never, ever give up," Capitals center Brooks Laich said. "You never quit; you never stop. And it makes you mad when he makes saves, but you use that as motivation, more drive and just keep battling, keeping going to the net, keep shooting pucks. And I think if we keep doing that, we'll have some success."
2. AWOL: We could have written Alex-WOL, as in Alexander Semin is AWOL, but we didn't know whether anyone would get it. But, like the Caps' power play, at some point the enigmatic Semin will make a positive contribution to this series. Semin, who had 40 goals and 44 assists in the regular season, has one assist in this series and didn't really mean to make the play that earned him the point. But he does lead the NHL playoffs in shots with 36. We guess that's a good thing, but it certainly would be better for the desperate Caps if one or two of them actually found the back of the net.
3. Been there, done that: We don't buy that being in a lot of Game 7s means anything, especially for the Caps, who have lost two of the three Game 7s they've played since 2008. But we do buy that this team has had success in the regular season and in spurts during this series. If the Capitals can find that groove while producing the same intensity as in Game 6, nature will take its course.
4. Semyon Varlamov: We wonder whether Varlamov will be thinking about his last Game 7 experience as he lines up for the national anthems Wednesday night. Varlamov was torched for four Pittsburgh goals on 18 shots before being replaced by Jose Theodore in a Game 7 in May 2009.Varlamov has been pretty good since taking over for Theodore in this series. He is 3-2 with a .912 save percentage and 2.48 GAA. But Wednesday will be about focus. Varlamov isn't likely to face nearly as many shots as Halak, but the impressive thing about the Canadiens has been their ability to produce dangerous scoring chances.
Varlamov will have to be sharp, sharper than he was Monday, when two of the three goals he allowed weren't necessarily Grade A scoring chances. Boudreau admitted on Tuesday that he had taken a couple of steps toward Theodore after the Canadiens scored their third goal Monday night.
"I had to walk and think a little bit before making a rash decision. I stopped and said, 'OK, calm down.'" Boudreau said.
Still, the coach wouldn't go so far as to name Varlamov the starter for Wednesday's game. We are guessing he will be, though.
5. Shaky is as shaky does: As good as Halak has been in the past two games, there is also the Caps' firsthand knowledge that he can be had. They lit him up in Game 2, a 6-5 victory, and chased him in Game 3, scoring three times on four shots in the second period of a 5-1 win. So, the debate of whether Halak is in their heads will be moot if he plays as he did earlier in the series.
"I bet if you ask Alex [Ovechkin], he still thinks he's going to score a goal. He thinks he's going to score every game. [Halak] has played great the last couple of games; there is no disputing that. But every game is a different day," Boudreau said. "We have all seen goalies play great, then play bad, and then come out and play great again. There are a lot of baseball analogies, but as a Yankee fan, I saw Andy Pettitte throw an awful lot of bad games last year and then in the playoffs he goes 3-0. Who knows what the feeling is on that particular day?"
The bottom line is, the Caps can't get away from pounding pucks at Halak.
"Well, he's a good goaltender. I don't think he's just going to collapse and let in five goals, but obviously the more you shoot, the better chance you have to score," said Laich, who had a number of good scoring chances in Game 6."But the difference is he's got to stop 25 shooters who are never going to tire. Hopefully we can keep shooting on him, and he's only one guy; hopefully we can maybe tire him out with a lot of shots."