Sunday, April 18, 2010

Aftermath: Broken Hearts

Oh, this hurts. They had it in their hands. Twice. They had it. We can talk about the atrocious reffing or the Caps' blatant interference on Halak, but they had it and they blew it. I won't talk about the goaltending, even though Jaro should have had the fifth goal, because a team wins as a team and it loses as a team and our team blew it last night.

While the conspiracy theories rage and the hand-wringing and tooth-grinding escalate, the fact is the game is in the books. There's no going back now, and there's another one tomorrow night. The question I have now is how will the team approach it?

One of two things will happen. In the best case, the team will be able to dismiss this heartbreak and reset mentally to dealing with a five-game series. They'll look at the things they did right, like the way they shut down the best offensive team in the league for five periods and an overtime. They'll focus on the way both of the top two lines have found their scoring touch simultaneously for the first time all year. The veteran Cup winners on the team will buoy the younger guys and explain that hearts get broken in the playoffs, but as long as there's another game, there's another chance to mend them. Nobody gets through the post-season without adversity. They'll realize that the Caps threw everything they had at them, and the Canadiens hung in there and stayed right with them. They'll learn from their mistakes.

The other choice is to wallow in the heartbreak. It's a tempting choice, because the vision of going home up two games to none was close enough to touch. Imagine coming within one number of winning the lottery, but you need a 3 and they call a 4? You're no worse off for having missed money you never had to begin with, but the spectre of almost being rich would haunt you. They've got to be angry at themselves, frustrated and completely disheartened. They played a beautiful game with great defence, and they capitalized on their scoring chances. They should have had it, but even playing nearly as well as they're possibly capable of playing, they couldn't hold off the Caps. That's got to be a devastating revelation.

I'm not sure how the team will take it or how they'll recover mentally from last night, but I know the fans have taken a real emotional blow with this loss. If any of us had been told last week that the Habs would not only get a split in Washington, but would come to within a minute-and-a-half of taking both games, we'd have been thrilled. Now, though, when they were so close to having it all, that split feels really hollow. When Plekanec scored the game winner on Thursday, I felt like this team could have a chance, if they kept doing what they did in Game One. They did that for most of last night, but couldn't hold them off anyway.

I truly believe anything can happen in the playoffs. But I also believe in momentum, and the Caps have it now. That win last night had to have been hugely inspiring for them and let them prove their offence can carry them out of trouble. They'll have confidence and be cocky heading into Montreal. While it's true this is now a best-of-five series and the teams are square, it's not like starting from scratch. The first game of a series is always about feeling out the opponent, but now the teams have each other's measure. Game Three will be a war, if the Habs stand up and fight. It will be outright destruction if they don't.

I have to confess, even though the series is tied, I feel like last night was a turning point. The Habs gave it everything they had, and it wasn't enough. Nobody backed down or failed to show up. They were just overwhelmed. I'm not sure they can recover from this blow, or have enough in the tank to eke out three more wins against this juggernaut. I want to believe they can. I really do. But the Caps showed us that sometimes the favourite is the favourite because they just have more and bigger weapons to throw at you.

There's always hope that the Caps can't sustain that level of ferocity, and that the Habs will learn from their mistakes and hold the lead next time they're lucky enough to have one. But it feels an awful lot like they climbed Everest, only to stumble and fall just before the reached the summit. Wasting a phenomenal effort like that is enough to make anyone want to give up. Whether they can catch themselves before plunging all the way down is the big unknown. I hope they'll fight, even if the climb is hard.

We'll find out tomorrow what they're made of mentally. It would be difficult for any team to recover from having it in their hands and handing it back. When the team is the underdog, though, it's that much harder. And boy, does it hurt.


Anonymous said...

If the Caps play hard with playoff urgency the Habs have no chance. Now that Theo is done the Habs lost their only advantage.

MC said...

As the 8th seed, the Habs just stole home-ice advantage from the best team in the league, and came within 1:20 of stepping on their throats in this series. As Habs fans, we have to be thrilled with where we are, even if how we got here was not ideal.

This was a tough loss, but the Caps also got lucky. Even Boudreau said after the game that they did not deserve to win. I find it encouraging that the Habs looked like the better team for most of the last five periods. Quite frankly, I think the Cap's goaltending and defense are not Stanley Cup calibre. Corvo was run out of Ottawa because of his defensive miscues; I've personally seen Tom Poti get booed in Edmonton at a playoff game when he was an Oiler. And we have seen why Green was left off the Olympic team. I'll take our D any day.

This loss could be a positive if they learn from it. They did a great job taking away time and space from the Caps's top players. Once they got up a few goals, the stopped doing it and we all saw the result when the Caps get room. The Habs played a perfect game for two periods, they just have to get back to the game plan. They should have more luck getting the matchups they want at home as well.

My only concern is that Hamrlik was looking tired in the third period. He will have to elevate if the Habs are going to have success.

V said...

I did not see the game - stuck in London under the volcanic ash so no games for me until the weekend.

So without the benefit of seeing the game, what I have to say may be out of touch with reality, but I don't have a problem at all with the loss in game 2 or the way it happened. I would be surprised if the Habs don't bounce back just fine.

Looking at the highlights, it looked like Washington suddenly found themselves utterly desperate and raised their effort to a level we did not match. We have time to recalibrate and raise our effort/desperation level as well and the Caps could well have a bit of a letdown because the pressure has been reduced for them.

I suspect they are already over the disapointment and focussed on the next game. Going to be interesting to see if Price gets the call... I would like to see Halak get the chance to make amends.

Anonymous said...

We are tied with the Caps 1-1. Even Steven. We have a choice here: be positive or crappy. What will you be tomorrow (not just you J.T., everyone). Send a good vibe to our players with the attitude that we won one game and almost won another -- which is better than them.

C'mon, we really need optimism here. Even Gionta says it.

T said...

I don't feel the Habs played their best. They knew at the beginning of this series that they wouldn't be able to play a "run-and-gun" style of hockey with the Capitals. Getting up 4-1, in game 2, seemed to make them forget that.

If they recommit to playing an aggressive defense, I think they'll win the series. And with them holding a team meeting today, I don't doubt they've reminded themselves of their game plan.

NorCalVol said...

Players don't think and react as fans. In the waining minutes of the second period, I'm thinking that if the Habs get to the end of the period without the Caps scoring (i.e., Habs up 4-1), the game is in the bag. That's why it hurts as a fan - you were touching a 2-0 lead; you could feel it.
I seriously doubt the players thought that - they have enough to do to think like that.
So, I think the players are just glad to be going home for two games.
The Habs have to win 2 of the 3 games at home to have a chance - that would give them a game 7 shot, and I'll take my chances with that.

Anonymous said...

JT, I won't despair, at least not yet. Unlike JM, I only have 7 yrs of coaching experience in minor hockey. lol! But if I'm coaching here's what I'm telling them...

You skated with them for 7+ periods and they were the team that had to come back to make it a draw. They threw everything they had at you and got lucky with two shots that went in off posts and two that should have been disallowed. That won't happen twice. Shift after shift you exposed their defence with your speed. If our D doesn't back up (like with their last two goals), then ours is better. Our top two lines basically canceled each other out and we have the better 3rd line. We chased their goalie and they're now pinning all their Stanley Cup hopes on a 21 yr. old kid in nets with no playoff experience. You guys have been the leader to this point in this series. So keep your foot on the gas and go fill that net!

Anonymous said...

I totally disagree with you. How can you say the Caps have the momentum right now? We are tied each at one. Tied! We won the first game and shit, can so close to winning the second game. So if you look at this from this perspective, we're doing much better than them! And we are playing at home tomorrow. You know, it's really a toss up. Every sports game is. What happens happens. Sometimes an excellent team sucks and vice versa. But I think we have more of a chance now then we had coming in to the series. In fact, it was you who agreed with every expert that we were going down and a miracle needed to happen for us to win. Well, we've come pretty close to something, haven't we? So c'mon now, if you stay positive, completely positive and the rest of the fans read this and stay positive as well, the universe can't help but feel those vibes and send it to our Habs. You gotta believe. Don't leave us until the bitter end. Promise? We have nothing left to lose. Look where we came from.

pierre said...

In Washington both team earned a single win and both needed overtime in order to get it done, at the conclusion of the double contests 16 goals had been scored, half of that by our Canadiens.

I like our method and our effectives and I cant see the Capitals running away with that series..... it is and I believe it will remain an exciting series until the end.

Unknown said...

Note to V - and anyone else stuck in the UK under the volcanic Ash - you can stream the RDS feed at - their feed is as good as it gets over here.

Go Habs Go!

Derek Donais said...

I'm not sure I agree that they played their best in that third period. They were tight, and it showed. No one can blame them for being unsettled, with the obvious controversial aspects I won't mention here. The Habs played stellar hockey for 5 periods and an overtime. They were just too rattled in the third frame. They haven't been a complete team for very many games, but they are definitely together now. Washington better hope that they still aren't settled or the 'juggernaut' - with a very exposed defensive Achilles heel - will be lucky to make it out of this series. Go Habs Go!