Well, he might not have the signature mullet, the size or the superstar label, but Tomas Plekanec seems to have learned a thing or two from his Kladno homeboy and childhood hero. Jagr himself couldn't have wired that OT winner any better than Pleky did. The fact that it was Plekanec, who'd taken a beating all night in the game and all week in the press, was simply poetic justice. With apologies to the benighted spouses of Habs fans everywhere, Plekanec made us all happier than we've been in a while.
The beautiful thing about that goal, however, was its origin. Sure, Plekanec was the guy who lasered the puck past Theodore, but he wasn't alone on the play. A hard-skating Mike Cammalleri provided the stick-slapping decoy and Jaro Spacek, who gathered his wits and his game after a poor first period, made a beautiful breakout pass right on Pleky's tape. The entire sequence was representative of the way the Habs played all night: as a team.
They managed to work together for the entire seventy-three minutes last night, although I admit for the first twenty they seemed to be working together to be bad. The giveaways in the first period were more generous than Mother Teresa. Thankfully, when the team found itself tied after that sad display, they pulled up their collective socks and got to work.
I wrote a couple of days ago about my silly theory that if the Habs pressured the Caps' defence, they'd get chances. I observed in the regular season game the Habs won 6-5 in OT against Washington that the Caps seemed to be so used to having the puck, they didn't know quite what to do when the tables were turned. The Habs demonstrated the truth of that theory last night. I think when they emerged tied after the first, they looked up and realized that maybe, just maybe, they could win. They started forechecking, using their speed and grinding along the boards. They gave up a ton of shots, but they were really good at pouncing on rebounds and denying second chances. They were disciplined and showed a lot of heart.
In a team game, it takes a real team approach to win as underdogs. I was really proud to see the Habs stand up and fight together. In the process, they, perhaps exposed a Washington weakness. When things got tight for the Caps, they started to play as individuals. They're hugely talented individuals, mind you, but history has proven a bunch of stars who don't work together have a hard time beating a bunch of plugs who do. In a game like last night's, it's almost unfair to single out individuals for praise, but some Habs really put everything on the line.
Hal Gill was the best Habs defenceman on the ice. I fully admit I never thought I'd ever write that sentence. But boy, did he ever play his oversized heart out last night. He and his ten-foot stick were everywhere and made smart, simple plays that helped turn the tide of the game in the second period. I think he's possibly proving his containment of Ovechkin last year in the playoffs wasn't an accident.
Dominic Moore made the third line a giant pain in the Capitals' President's Trophy-winning asses all night. Every time we heard his name, the camera showed him fighting like a pit bull for the puck. He took a terrible amount of abuse, but he stood up and did the job anyway. If a team like Montreal is to win against a powerhouse like Washington, every line has to go all out until the last siren sounds. Moore and his linemates lived that motto last night.
Jaro Spacek sucked in the first period. He gave the puck away, made dumb passes and looked overwhelmed physically. He went into the dressing room during the intermission, and emerged a different defenceman. In the final fifty-three minutes of the game, he was smart, wily and effective. He was a big reason why Ovechkin didn't register a shot in 73 minutes.
Jaro Halak deserves a special mention because he kept his team in the game, as he almost always does, when it doesn't deserve to have a chance. Cammalleri said it best after the game, when asked to give his take on Halak's play. He said, "Jaro was Jaro. He's been so solid for us all year. He's had to be that way. There really isn't an option." He could barely get the sentence out through a fit of incredulous giggling, but he's exactly right.
So many people did so many little things right, it'd be impossible to detail them all without making you read for an hour. What I saw was a team with heart playing like a real team and confounding a very talented group of individuals. The question now is whether the Habs can do it three more times.
I don't think for a moment that Ovechkin will have another night as unremarkable as his Game One. I do think the Caps were expecting a walk-over because they're listening a little bit too much to their own press. It's interesting that so many of them took the bait on the Plekanec comments earlier this week. I think, in a market where they're not used to having so much media attention on a regular basis, they're buying what they're being told. Now the Habs have shocked them and they'll be nervous, wondering if it will happen again. Tomorrow is a great time for the Habs to press that advantage and get to them again, before the Caps wake up.
It won't be easy, but the Habs proved to themselves and to the Caps that it's possible. The Caps will be mad now and trying to avenge last night, which will make for a very tough Game Two. Then again, the Habs have Tomas Jagr, their secret weapon.