I wish there was a do-over clause on NHL hockey games, or at least on a period. Hell, I'd take one minute of one period. The Habs played a gutsy game last night. They pushed and hit and shot every puck they could, but bad luck and a deficiency in basic talent spoiled their party.
If I had one minute to strike from the game, it'd be a toss-up between the last minute of the second period and the minute immediately after the Caps' third goal. In both cases, I would NOT have had Roman Hamrlik on the ice. I don't know what the hell is wrong with him, but he's destroying the team in this series. He's been absolute crap on the power play, but even worse, he's been on the ice for two consecutive short-handed goals that broke his team's stride and its heart. Last night was particularly awful. With six seconds to go in the second period, with a one-goal lead and a PP to run out the clock, the Habs should have carried the momentum into the third. Instead, thanks to Hamrlik's bumbling the puck at the Caps' blueline and his inability to recover, Washington scored the shorty that turned the tide. I'd love to have that minute back.
I'd take the twelfth minute of the third back too, if I could. Ovechkin had just blasted one past Price to give the Caps a 3-2 lead. Inexplicably, Martin sent the Lapierre line and the team's worst defensive pair of Hamrlik and Bergeron out for the next shift. Not surprisingly, the Caps scored again to grab the Habs in a chokehold.
If I could go way back, I'd take back the minute Bob Gainey phoned Jacques Martin and asked him to coach the Habs. That may be asking a bit too much, though, even if I could have killed him for pulling Price with more than two minutes to go. The Habs might have had the energy for a big push after Moore scored the third Canadiens goal, but by then the Caps had already put the game out of reach with an empty netter.
That was the story of the game, and the series, really. The Habs played their hearts out and controlled much of the play, but could only cash in three times. Every error they made ended up in the back of their net. The Caps were just too strong and too lucky. A little team with an aging defence exposed to a bunch of freewheeling goalscorers didn't really have the tools to lock down four wins.
You know what though? It's their own fault. If they'd played with half the heart and speed they've shown against Washington when they played the 'Canes, Isles or leafs for their playoff lives in the last week of the season, they wouldn't be facing the Caps right now. I don't think the team would have won the Cup anyway, because I think an opponent with a tight defensive system would have shut down their offence, but it still hurts to go out in the first round.
I've been getting some criticism for saying it's unlikely the Habs will win this series, but I've been realistic. I love the Habs as much as anybody, and I really, really hoped they'd pull it off. Realistically, however, they're not powerful enough to dominate the Caps for a full sixty minutes. Despite that, there are some highs in this series.
It's nothing short of inspirational to see Glen Metropolit, who grew up a Habs fan, come back early from his shoulder injury and leave his heart on the ice. He played like a man who knew he was playing the only post-season games he'd ever get the chance to play in Montreal.
Tomas Plekanec didn't score last night, but he's put up enough points in the series to silence the critics who think he's not good in the playoffs. It's the last question that needed to be answered before management offers him a new contract.
Brian Gionta is worth his money. He's a playoff warrior and if the team stays moderately healthy next year and gets itself a more advantageous first-round opponent, he'll be gold.
Jaro Spacek might be old and look a bit fat, but he knows how to play good positional defence when he needs to. Right now, if it's one of him or Hamrlik, I'd keep Spacek. Not just because of contracts either.
Hal Gill showed me something I wasn't expecting. The big lug can really be useful. I understand now why he doesn't play like this all the time. If he blocked shots as he's been doing in this series all through the regular season, he'd be completely worn out by playoff time. He's been a stud.
The Habs tried hard last night, and I admire them for that. They're doing the best they can with the team management has put together. Unfortunately for them, they haven't tanked hard in the last decade as their opposition has done, and therefore haven't been able to access the franchise players the Caps have.
Speaking of those franchise players, I guess it's possible to have it all and still be an arsehole. Did you catch the Habs taking the ice at the beginning of the game? The little kids who carry the flags were standing on either side of the gate waiting for their heroes when Ovechkin raced across the ice to the Caps' bench, slammed to a stop and gave one of the kids a face full of snow. Real classy. I'd rather have a guy like Gionta on the roster than a superstar so full of himself he needs to make a point to little kids.
Maybe Ovechkin would like a do-over on that moment. I know there are a few I'd love to see the Habs have a second shot at. They're not as bad as their record in this series says they are, and I wish they had another chance to prove it.