Category archive: Alex Ovechkin
WASHINGTON -- The game's crucial play, or at least crucial from the Washington Capitals' point of view, came just 24 seconds into the third period with the Capitals trailing 1-0.
Mike Knuble set up shop on the edge of the Montreal crease, and Alex Ovechkin sent a shot toward the net that Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak couldn't find. But as the Capitals celebrated, referee Brad Watson disallowed the goal because Knuble had impeded Halak's ability to get set. Replays showed that if there had been contact, it was minor at worst. Replays also showed that the puck seemed to enter the net at the exact moment the contact was initiated.
"It feels like you're whining if you say things negative, but that was a pretty tough one to take," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It looked like it didn't. If it did, it was so light, I don't know how they could make the call, and I thought the puck was in the net before that anyway.
"Again, it seems like I'm crying," Boudreau said. "I do know that they talked about us being in front of the net all the time to the supervisor [of officials], so I don't know if that had any effect or not."
Knuble was not happy with the call.
"That's a violation that hasn't been called all year, and I felt all night I wasn't a crease presence as far as being in the blue paint," the right winger said. "I was right on the edge where I should be, and we talked about it, the referee and I. I haven't seen the replay yet. That's something weird. We haven't seen it all year, and now it comes out in Game 7."
Next up: PittsburghWhile the Capitals were wondering where it all went wrong, the Canadiens were already looking forward to meeting the defending Stanley Cup-champion Penguins in the conference semifinals starting Friday in Pittsburgh.
"First thought is Sidney Crosby and the series he just had, playing as good as ever," Canadiens winger Mike Cammalleri said. "They earned it last year and they earned that respect. We're going to have our hands full."
Still, don't look for the Canadiens to be awestruck, not after knocking off the Presidents' Trophy winners.
"Our thing going into this series is we felt like we hadn't reached our full potential yet, and we were excited about moving toward that and we think we're still getting there," Cammalleri said. "A lot of guys care in this room. A lot of guys wanted to keep playing hockey."
Halak the greatHabs netminder Jaroslav Halak turned aside an incredible 131 of 134 shots he faced through the last three games of the series. Not bad for a guy who got pulled in Game 3.
"Before the series started, nobody gave us a chance to win, not even one game," Halak said. "We proved they were wrong. We showed a lot of character after being down 3-1 to come back like that. It's been a great series, but now the second round is ahead of us, and we have to make sure we're ready."
WASHINGTON -- Montreal Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill has been around a few Game 7s in his career, including one in this building last season, when he was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens, of course, knocked off the Washington Capitals 6-2 in that game en route to a Stanley Cup win.
He said there is always a defining moment in these contests. "A save or a goal," he said.
In that particular game, it was a save by Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury on an early breakaway by Alex Ovechkin that shifted momentum. Gill said he will think about his previous experiences in these situations.
"I think you look at your state of mind. Sometimes you feel like you might have been too loose, you might have been too tight," he said. "You draw off experiences, but every game is different and there's momentum changes; you're going to be down, you're going to be up, there's a lot of things going on out there. If you plan too much, often you get slapped in the face with something different."
Someone pointed out that this is the fourth straight seven-game playoff series for Washington but the first in which the Caps are coming off a loss. Does that make a difference?
"It's the biggest difference in the world," Gill joked. "No, no, no I don't think that matters. It's its own beast."
Putting Game 7 into perspectiveOne possible lineup change tonight could involve veteran forward Scott Walker, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Carolina Hurricanes but has yet to see any game action in this series for Washington.
Walker scored the overtime winner in a Game 7 thriller against the Boston Bruins in the second round of the playoffs last season. He said there's always a sense of uncertainty heading into a deciding game.
"Is your goalie going to be good, our power play going to be good, our penalty kill? You just have to assume everything's going to be good," Walker said. "You've got to assume they're going to be good, their goalie's going to be good and you just got to say, 'OK, I've got to be good.'"
Although he hasn't been in the lineup, Walker brings not just experience but perspective. Last year at this time, he had just learned his wife had been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
"I had so many things going on in my life at that point that weren't hockey-related, so it's such a different feeling," Walker said. "Honestly, good or bad, Game 7 really didn't mean that much to me last year. I mean, it did in a sense, but it really didn't. There was so much going on, there was so many things; at the exact time of Game 7 in Boston was basically when I found out about my wife.
"It was almost near impossible to think. I still remember to this day getting my skates on, sitting on the bench sometimes, the play was going on, I was thinking, 'What am I going to do? Is everything going to be all right?' It was crazy stuff, but you were yet in the game and you felt it, but sometimes I felt I was sitting outside of the game."
A year later, his wife has recovered and Walker is wondering whether he'll get another chance at Game 7 glory.
"It's a different feeling now," he said. "I'm excited to be around it and have a positive feeling about winning, but also positive about life in general that everybody's health is hopefully great."
'Heroes are made and goats are talked about'Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said he didn't think his team was worrying at this stage about having blown a 3-1 series lead.
"Either team would have loved to have won it earlier," Boudreau said. "Game 7 is what it is, it's an exciting part of hockey lore, and heroes are made and goats are talked about in TSN on the highlights for the next year. So it's an exciting time if you're an athlete; it's the position you want to be in."
As for a test of character, the coach said he thinks both teams have displayed loads of character in this series.
"I think you're going to see a great hockey game with both teams willing to do anything it takes to win," Boudreau said. "And the character, both teams are in a Game 7 in a hard-fought series where you've got one guy playing when he pulls his tooth out [Eric Belanger], other guys in Montreal playing definitely injured, so that's the character."
More on special teamsOf course, the Canadiens' penalty kill, along with the play of netminder Jaroslav Halak, has been the story of the Habs' comeback in this series. But Gill said they can't rest on their laurels.
"We've been solid, but it's about what we do tonight. Obviously we don't want to take as many penalties, but we're going to have to kill some, and it's all what we bring tonight," he said. "The thing about special teams is it's a whole new battle every time you get out there. There's going to be a different setup, there's going to be different personnel, there's going to be different changes in the game, and we have to be able to adapt to those."
Five reasons Montreal will win:1. The Mike Cammalleri plan: In all three Montreal wins in this series, the nifty winger has given his team an early lead. In Game 6, he scored twice within 1 minute, 39 seconds to give the Habs a 2-0 lead midway through the first period. If he gets the Habs on the board early and forces the Verizon Center faithful to worry, the Habs will be on their way to Pittsburgh.
A little side note about Cammalleri: Washington bench boss Bruce Boudreau coached Cammalleri for three years in the AHL in Manchester, N.H., when the winger was a Los Angeles Kings prospect, and the two are close. Boudreau said he saw Cammalleri's dad earlier in the series and gave him a big hug.
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.
Five reasons Washington will win:1. Power play: What's the old theory of probability that suggests that an infinite number of monkeys pounding on an infinite number of typewriters would at some point produce the works of Shakespeare? Well, apply that to Washington's power play. At some point, all that pounding away at the Habs' net on the man advantage will yield something. It has to, right? Good grief. The team scored a league-best 79 power-play goals in the regular season; that's almost one per game. Surely the Caps can do better than 1-for-30.
"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."
Boudreau was unequivocal about the decision to make Ovechkin captain; it was his team, it was his time.
We say those words out loud again as the Capitals prepare for an improbable seventh game against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, the hockey equivalent of the "Little Engine That Could":
This is Ovechkin's team, this is Ovechkin's time.
These are the moments great players live for, the moments that define greatness because the stakes are so high and the margin for error so slim. For a player who longs to be considered a great leader, this is a great opportunity. The Capitals will go where he takes them.
Ovechkin said Tuesday that Game 7 will test everyone, including him.
"Well, it's not only for me; it's a test for everybody," he said. "I think everybody knows how important of a game it is, and it's going to be a huge test for all of us."
And he said he won't be making any emotional speeches before the game.
"Before every game, we have lots of guys who can talk, and everybody knows what we have to do," he said. "I have to lead on the ice and in the locker room, but it's not only me. I'm not the only guy that plays hockey here."
It's true. And we offer the obligatory paragraph here about how this is a team game and heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Gritty Maxime Talbot scored both goals in the Pittsburgh Penguins' Game 7 triumph over the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals last season. Capitals checking center David Steckel scored an overtime winner in Game 6 against Pittsburgh last season to force a seventh game.
But it says here the Washington Capitals will be looking to No. 8 to show them that they aren't done, that they haven't started down the path to becoming playoff fade artists.
"I think it's another opportunity for his reputation to grow," Boudreau said Tuesday. "I mean, people love Alex Ovechkin stories, and if he was to rise to the occasion -- and I know he will mentally and hopefully he can on the ice -- then everybody will build that up probably twice as much as it should have been.
"And if he doesn't succeed, they'll build it up twice as much as it should have been in that respect, too. I think that comes with the price of being one of the top players in the league."
Boudreau is absolutely right.
And in this moment, the stakes are high for Ovechkin and the Capitals after blowing a 3-1 series lead against a team that finished 33 points behind them in the regular season and scored a whopping 101 fewer goals.
A loss Wednesday will push them toward San Jose Sharks territory, the ultimate insult for any championship-hungry team, the insinuation that you can pad the stats in the regular season but can't bring it when it matters.
"Every series, we have had seven games, and that's unfortunate. We wanted to finish it up a little bit early, but I hope we're going to finish it up tomorrow," Ovechkin said Tuesday. "If you lose, you're done. This is the difference. That's the biggest difference. We don't want it to be the last game of the year tomorrow night. We want to continue."
It's been interesting to watch the Russian superstar early this spring, his first since taking on the "C" in early January.
Although he was sulky at the Olympics, he seems to have warmed to his role as the team's spokesman. He remains more than a little irreverent in a way Crosby never is (we're pretty sure Crosby would never have pointed out Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak's possible shaky hand as Ovechkin did), but that's what makes him such a unique character in the game.
Still, just as the Penguins take their cues from Crosby, the Capitals will be taking their cues Wednesday night from Ovechkin as they try to stop the bleeding in a series they once owned.
He has shown in this series that he can be that difference-maker. Remember when the Caps were down 4-1 to the Habs in Game 2? Ovechkin scored and added three assists as Washington roared back to win 6-5. This was just one game after he'd been held without a shot. In the past two games, though, the Caps have scored just twice despite launching 92 shots at Halak.
On Monday, we thought we saw a little hiccup in Ovechkin's game. He flubbed a couple of passes in the slot and along the blue line on the power play. At one point, he raced around Hal Gill and, instead of driving to the net on his backhand, he sent a pass into the ether.
On Wednesday night, Ovechkin will have to find a way.
If he does, the Caps will roll and will be fully engaged with the Philadelphia Flyers by the weekend, forgetting just how close they came to the edge so early this postseason.
If he doesn't, well, the damage to Ovechkin's reputation, and the reputation of this very good hockey team, will be difficult to measure. But, rest assured, it will be significant.