Category archive: Washington Capitals

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: Pittsburgh

While 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 great

Habs 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 perspective

One 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 teams

Of 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."

WASHINGTON -- Here are our keys to tonight's Game 7 for the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals:

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."

WASHINGTON -- On the eve of the playoffs, someone asked Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau about Alex Ovechkin and the captaincy.

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.

You don't get to breathe the rarified air that is breathed by Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby or Roberto Luongo without having to live with the expectation that you will always be godlike.

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.

MONTREAL -- Jaroslav Halak, the master of the understatement, was asked to describe his 53-save effort in Game 6 of the East quarterfinals.

"I don't know. I would say another day in the office. That's what I would say," Halak said.

Thank goodness for others like Mike Cammalleri, who were able to put it in perhaps a more eloquent perspective.

"Tonight was one of those superb performances. It'll be on ESPN Classic or TSN Classics tomorrow," Cammalleri said.

Many people will suggest Halak is in the Caps' heads, and Washington coach Bruce Boudreau acknowledged that perhaps his scorers are looking for the perfect spot instead of just blasting away.

"Yep, that's absolutely what happens," Boudreau said. "Instead of just shooting, you try to be too fine, you try to pick two-inch spots, and what ends up going in is a wide shot that's redirected, you know, that he had no chance on."

Goalie change for Caps?

No doubt Washington fans will wonder about a possible goaltending change for Game 7. But Boudreau didn't seem to be leaning in that direction, even though he didn't like Cammalleri's second goal, or Montreal's third tally, a high, hard shot by Maxim Lapierre.

"I mean, I'm no goalie, but maybe [Semyon Varlamov] should have had it," Boudreau said. "It was a good shot right under the bar. He'd been sitting there, not getting a lot of shots for the last 40 minutes, so maybe he was, I don't know. It was a real good shot. I don't want to fault him on any of them.

"I wasn't in any way ready to pull him because of those two because I couldn't see how he saw them."

That said, Boudreau did say he thought Jose Theodore would be ready if he decided to go that direction.

"I could [make a switch]," he said. "I don't know. I haven't gotten that far yet, it's just 15 minutes after the game. I'm sure Theo would be ready if we decided to [do] that."

Our guess? If Boudreau was going to make a switch, he would have gone to Theodore to start the third period to give him some work before Wednesday.

Super Subban

We wondered what all the excitement was when Montreal announced Monday morning that defenseman P.K. Subban was being brought up from the farm team in Hamilton. But the team's top defensive prospect didn't disappoint. He played with great poise, handling the puck, moving it out of the defensive zone and jumping into the play.

He played 10:02 and collected an assist in his first NHL playoff game.

"I don't think you have time to think if you're ready or not," Subban said. "The reality is, you're playing. You've got to figure it out. … You've got to do the things that give you success. With me, it's my ability to try and make plays. I tried my best to do that. [Montreal coach] Jacques [Martin] told me I did a good job, so that's good to hear, too."

MONTREAL -- Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau once again bristled at questions regarding the play of Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green, who has zero goals and two assists in five games.

"I really don't want to answer any Mike Green questions because I'm tired of it, because it's unwarranted," he said. "I said it [Sunday], I don't see anybody asking [about] Duncan Keith, who's minus-5 with no points, or Drew Doughty who's out and was minus-6 in the series and minus-2 in a critical game. Why are we focusing on Mike Green? He's not scoring, but he's playing well. He's playing 26 minutes a game and it's just unwarranted. But you guys want to keep talking about him, put him down and say he's the reason why the series is 3-2. It's not right."

Another player in the spotlight for his play is Alexander Semin, who has zero goals and one assist in the series. He was not on the ice for the morning skate, but is expected in the lineup Monday night.

Captain Alex Ovechkin said no one needs to treat Semin or Green any differently.

"No, I don't think we have to joke about it or talk about it a lot with those guys," Ovechkin said. "They're professionals and they have experience and know exactly what they have to do. We just try to help them, but the most important thing right now is it's not about personal results, it's about the team results. If we win the game, nobody is going to say this guy played bad and this guy played bad. If we lose the game, everybody played bad."

An update on the man who played dentist

One moment that defines playoff hockey happened in Game 5 in Washington, where Caps forward Eric Belanger collided with former teammate Marc-Andre Bergeron in the neutral zone and Bergeron's stick caught Belanger in the mouth.

Moments later, Belanger was seen on the bench holding up his finger while the trainer attended to him. He reached in and pulled out a tooth, one of seven he lost in the incident, and handed it to the trainer. He returned later in the game.

Belanger said Monday he knew right away he was in a mess.

"Yeah, because it happened to me before and the flashes I had after it happened was, 'Holy crap, I'm going to have to be in the dentist chair for a lot of hours because I went through the process before and it took me a year to fix everything.' But I knew the chances were there for me to be hit again. Just part of the game I guess," said Belanger, who was acquired by the Capitals at the trade deadline.

"It's not fun. You just want to get back out there and play," he added. "I was getting stitched up between the first and second and I could see the time running down and I just wanted to be out there and play. The doctors did a great jog of stitching me up and able to put me back on the ice."

After the game, Bergeron called to see if he was OK.

"He felt bad. It was just at the wrong place at the wrong time; it's no big deal," Belanger said.

The next day, he had more work done to ensure he could play Monday in Game 6.

"They just patched a couple of teeth [where] the nerves were damaged so I could get on the plane yesterday and feel comfortable, and when I get back, hopefully we can get some more work done in a couple of weeks, maybe some implants and whatever needs to be done."

As for eating, Belanger could eat normally. "Small pieces," he said.

If there was any consolation, three of the seven teeth that were lost were replacement teeth from an earlier incident.

Theodore recognized by team, NHL

Washington netminder Jose Theodore was named one of the three finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which recognizes perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Theodore lost an infant son during the offseason, but returned to the Capitals and, at one point in the second half of the regular season, went 23 straight games without losing in regulation.

"I think it's fabulous. It's well-deserved and I don't think anyone should have to go through what he's had to deal with, not only this summer, but during the course of the year," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday. "Dealing with the grief and coming out and going on a streak from January on, was basically undefeated, is a pretty remarkable thing. Not only that, he doesn't look like he's sullen or anything, keeping up the good show while he's around all the guys. I'm sure him and his wife still have difficult times dealing with it."

Theodore declined to talk to reporters Monday.

MONTREAL  A lot of attention has been paid to the Canadiens' penalty killers, and with good reason. They've stymied the powerful Washington power play throughout the series, allowing just one goal on 24 chances. Hal Gill has played a big role in that, but he acknowledged he'll never be mistaken for a skills guy.

He joked there are lots of guys playing in beer leagues who have better hands than he has. "But that's life," said Gill, who won a Cup in Pittsburgh last season. "I'm not pretty. I'm not trying to be."

And about that power play &

The Capitals will again be hoping to get their top-ranked power play (during the regular season, at least) going in Game 6. The focal point of the team's lack of success has become Alexander Semin.

The talented winger had 40 goals during the regular season, eight of which were on the power play. He has failed to score in the first five games and has one lonely assist to show for his efforts, and even that point was actually a case of a mishandled puck somehow making its way to Alex Ovechkin, who scored in Game 4.

Still, the old saying is, if you're getting chances, that's the main thing, and Semin is certainly getting chances. Prior to Sunday's games, Semin was second in the NHL in shots taken with 29. That's almost six shots a game. You've got to figure one of them is going to sneak in sometime.

Of course, Semin has made a habit of coming up dry in the postseason. He failed to score in the last seven games of last season's playoff run. His last marker came at the 15:34 mark of the first period in Game 7 of the Caps' first-round series against the New York Rangers.

"I think, mentally, it's a good thing that he doesn't speak English, so he doesn't listen to you guys," Ovechkin told reporters Sunday before the Capitals departed for Montreal. "The most important thing is the teammates help him a lot. He's trying and the last game he played very well. He played pretty hard, made some hits and shot the puck. It's going to be coming soon."

Under pressure

First, we had Ovechkin talking about how Jaroslav Halak looked shaky. Now, the sentiment in the Canadiens' dressing room seems to be the pressure is now all on the Capitals even though they're up 3-2 in the series.

"There are different ranges of emotion depending on who's having success, who's not, the way the game's going, who's winning, who's losing, who's scoring, who's not. You see different ranges of emotions," Montreal's Mike Cammalleri said Sunday. "I think they have high expectations. They're supposed to win the Stanley Cup; they're supposed to beat us. That's sometimes a bit of a burden.

"For us, it's the opposite. We do believe we can win in this room, and we don't think anyone expects us to, but that's OK with us."

Hamrlik looks for his chance

One guy the Canadiens had been counting on is veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik. He has had a miserable postseason and played just 12:10 in Game 5 and was benched for most of the third period.

"For sure I can play better," Hamrlik said Sunday.

He insisted he isn't injured and believes he hasn't lost the confidence of the coaching staff.

"We talked about it. I know I have to bring more," Hamrlik said. "I still have confidence of the coaches. I'm sure they're going to give me my chance."

As for his own confidence, the 36-year-old who logged important minutes during the first half of the regular season when Andrei Markov was injured, insisted it's still good.

"It's going to be another game tomorrow, the biggest game, and I'm going to bring my best," Hamrlik said. "Last game, you know, I hadn't played much. We got a big win and I support the guys, but it's frustrating to watch the game from the bench, absolutely."

ARLINGTON, Va. -- We watched Alex Ovechkin roar to the bench during warm-ups before Game 4 and were concerned he might actually topple over the youngster wearing the Montreal gear and holding a Canadiens flag next to the bench. Instead, the Washington captain stopped abruptly, spraying a shower of snow onto the youngster's shin guards and socks.

Big deal.

You wouldn't think so, but the incident has made the rounds the talk radio sports shows on both sides of the border. Ovechkin was unapologetic Friday morning.

What does he think of the furor?

"Nothing. I just do it all the time and the kid was in front, and I think he's pretty happy about it," he said. "Probably he talks with his friends about it. I think it's cool."

Moving on …

Ovechkin was asked about the experience of trailing 3-1 in a series (the Caps were down 3-1 against the New York Rangers in the first round last postseason) and whether that might help prepare them for what the Habs are going through emotionally.

"When you are losing 3-1, you think, 'Jesus, why did this happen to our team?' We talked to the guys and they didn't want to go on vacation or go home," Ovechkin said. "They wanted to play. This is a situation where everybody has to be ready for a fight."

He figures the opening moments of Game 5 will be crucial.

"The first 10 minutes is going to be very important," Ovechkin said. "I think they're going to push us pretty hard and try to score goals, and if they score, it'll be mentally good for them. We have to push back and play our game."

Boudreau's not going there

Washington coach Bruce Boudreau was in no mood to discuss his team's potential second-round opponent, Philadelphia. The Flyers, the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, ousted No. 2 New Jersey in five games with a 3-0 win Thursday night.

"I'm not talking about Philadelphia," Boudreau said. "I'm talking about Montreal."

If the Capitals should advance, they would automatically play the Flyers regardless of the outcome of the other two series because Philadelphia is the lowest seed and the Caps are the top seed.

A Norris finalist

No surprise, but Mike Green was named a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman for the second year in a row. Green led all defenders with 19 goals and 76 points in 75 games. His plus-39 rating was second among all defensemen. He is just the seventh blueliner in NHL history to record back-to-back seasons of 70 or more points before reaching the age of 25. He had 73 points in 2008-09.

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Here are some musings and meanderings as we approach the first elimination game of this series Friday night in Washington:

1. There's smokin' … and then there's Semin

How dominant has the Capitals' big line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble been? Let us count the ways. The trio has combined for 11 goals, 11 assists and is a combined plus-22 through the first four games of the series.

The other Alex, Alexander Semin, he of the 40 regular-season goals? Not so much.

Semin has one assist in the series, and that was on a play in which the puck dribbled off the end of his stick and Ovechkin ripped home the Caps' goal.

"Well, it was right on the tape, wasn't it?" Caps coach Bruce Boudreau deadpanned Thursday when asked if he thought Semin actually meant to pass the puck to Ovechkin.

Semin was also involved in a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty late in the second period of Game 4 that could have been costly. He motioned for Eric Fehr to come onto the ice and then remained on himself when the puck came near him.

"I think that there's room for improvement. He's definitely hasn't shown the hockey world how well he can play when he's on top of his game," Boudreau said. "I don't know what the reason is. I know he wants to win and he wants to play well. It just hasn't transferred into points and successful scoring opportunities."

2. Don't get angry

Still a little fallout over Montreal netminder Carey Price's rare double unsportsmanlike conducts late in Game 4. He first shot a puck at a group of celebrating Capitals after Jason Chimera made it 4-2 and then made a slashing gesture at Nicklas Backstrom after he scored the final goal of the night into an empty net to make it 6-3.

"I could picture it as frustration," Boudreau said. "He's a pretty reserved man from what I've seen on tape and that. He was probably very frustrated, and the way things happened, there wasn't a lot of malicious stuff. The flip wasn't very hard, and with the stick on Nicky, he would have liked to have hit him hard, but sort of [likely said], 'Ahhh, what am I doing?' So I think it was just out of frustration."

At the Montreal Canadiens' practice Thursday, some of the Habs talked about the need to maintain their cool, something that has been in short supply in the past couple of games. Along with Price's fouls, Tomas Plekanec was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in Game 3 and Scott Gomez was assessed a 10-minute misconduct in the same game, a 5-1 Washington win.

"'I don't think you avoid it; you accept it. You accept that frustration," Montreal forward Mike Cammalleri told reporters before the team flew to Washington. "You don't fight it. You acknowledge it and then do your best to move forward in a productive manner. OK, we're frustrated. We've got a little fire in our belly and let's go play a game where we're not frustrated.'"

3. Varly's time

Boudreau said he wasn't surprised by the sharpness of Caps netminder Semyon Varlamov since coming on in relief of Jose Theodore early in Game 2.

Varlamov, still technically a rookie this season even though he played the bulk of the Caps' playoff games a year ago, has stopped 81 of 88 shots for a .920 save percentage and three straight wins.

"If this was this time last year, say against the Rangers, I'd say yeah, it's surprised me," Boudreau said. "But because he's done it before and he did it before earlier on in the season, this is what we thought we were going to get."

4. Decisions, decisions

No easy decisions for Boudreau given the depth at his disposal. On any given night, he's got to tell four NHL-caliber plays they can't play.

In the past two games, he made David Steckel -- a player who has played for him at various levels on various teams for five seasons -- a healthy scratch in favor of Boyd Gordon.

"I've let him know, he's going to play. His season is nowhere done yet," Boudreau said. "But it was a choice. I told him I thought Boyd was a little quicker than him and we're playing a very fast team that's not very big up front. It just made a little bit of sense, to get another right-handed center because everybody was left-handed. It had nothing to do with Dave's actual play."

When Steckel was in the lineup, veteran center Brendan Morrison was out for a game. Veteran winger Scott Walker, acquired at the trade deadline, has yet to see any action, although Boudreau said Walker will see action at some point this spring.

Having lots of depth is both a blessing and a curse, as players are in a constant competition with each other to get into the lineup.

"I'm sure there is [competition], but they've been great teammates," Boudreau said. "You've never seen animosity on the ice of one guy getting frustrated with another guy because he's playing above him, because our goal is, as 26 guys, is to win, so we all have to be strong for the common goal.

"It was the same thing after the trade deadline when we got all these guys. Just trying to keep them all active and playing, and they all bought in and it made it easier on the coach, I know that."

5. Don't look too far ahead

When a team is up 3-1 like the Capitals are, invariably someone asks if it's important to close out their opponent early.

One day we'd love to hear someone say, "No, it'd be better for us to have more practice games; plus, we're afraid our guys will eat and drink too much if they have to wait too long for the next series to start, so we'd like to play the full seven." But they don't.

Boudreau wanted no part of any discussion about why it might be good to close out the Habs on Friday night.

"We don't even look forward to that, that far ahead," he said. "We want to win Game 5, and let's see where that takes us. When you start looking forward to the next series and the next series, all of a sudden you realize that you're not in that next series. We want to get through this one. This is tough enough right now."

The last word

Cammalleri did say he heard a smattering of boos during the U.S. national anthem in Montreal and thinks it was inappropriate.

"I noticed there was some booing of the anthem, and I would say that we really appreciate our fans, but I don't think it's right that we boo anthems," he said. "I think we should be a little bit more respectful when it comes to that."

Well said.

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals would never say this, but we will: they had a harder time getting home from Montreal than they did handling the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre this week.

The Caps flew out of Montreal at about 11:20 p.m. following Wednesday's 6-3 triumph, a win that gave them a 3-1 series lead, and were expected to land at Washington Dulles International Airport. However, just before landing, they were told there was too much fog and their plane would have to divert to Washington National Airport.

But, again, fog forced a change of plans.

Finally, the team landed at Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) shortly after 1 a.m., but that wasn't the end of the adventure for the weary Caps.

Because there were no customs officials at BWI to process the team -- having departed Canada, of course -- they had to wait on the plane for close to three hours while staff was called in to the airport. At one point, the team thought it would have to wait until 6 a.m., when the next shift started; but agents were made available and the players were processed between 3:45 and 4 a.m.

Once the players were processed, some took cabs back to Dulles, where their vehicles had been parked at the start of the two-game road trip. Others went straight home, but had to return to pick up their vehicles Thursday.

It was no surprise, then, that coach Bruce Boudreau canceled practice.

"It was a pretty long night, but we made it through and we're getting a good day off today. It's going to be good to get a little bit of sleep today," said Eric Fehr, one of a handful of Capitals who were at the team's practice facility. "Guys were getting antsy in the first hour [waiting for customs], kind of chirping at each other and making fun of each other; but after that, we just all calmed down and tried to fall asleep in our seats because it was getting late."

"Yeah, that was rough," added defenseman Joe Corvo. "I didn't get to bed until 5 a.m. I'm a little foggy today."

Ah, good one. Get it? Foggy?

Guess you had to be there.