Saku Koivu of the Montreal Canadiens greets Manny Fernandez of the Boston Bruins during the traditional post-series handshake after Game 4. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
You know what they’re saying in Washington. The Capitals were down 3-1 to Philadelphia last year before storming back to force a Game 7, which they ultimately lost in overtime.
Now, facing the same series deficit versus the New York Rangers, the Caps most natural rallying cry is, “We did it before, this time let’s finish the job.”
That notion would be more than hyperbole if they weren’t trying to score goals on Henrik Lundqvist, which is just about the toughest NHL assignment east of Vancouver.
The good news for Washington is Alex Ovechkin looks poised for another late-series surge similar to the one he had last year against Philly. Ovie had just one goal through five games in that match up, but came through with two in Game 6 and one more in Game 7. Having popped his first goal against the Rangers in the third period of Game 4, maybe he’s coming alive once again.
The bad news for the Capitals is I can’t believe they’ll get any more gimmie power plays courtesy of Sean Avery’s stupidity. If I interpreted the look on John Tortorella’s face correctly after Avery took a moronic late-game penalty on Tom Poti, Avery might not dress for another game in this series, or any others the Rangers happen to play going forward. Most people run out of patience with Avery eventually and Tortorella doesn’t exactly have the tolerance level of most people.
I would in no way be surprised if Avery has worn out his welcome with team No. 2 this year.
Meanwhile in Montreal, all that was missing at the gruesome end of the Canadiens’ miserable centennial season was Carey Price finding owner George Gillett in the stands to tell him he’d just played his last game for the Habs.
What sad symmetry to see history repeating itself with young Price giving the Patrick Roy mock cheer to the fans. I can forgive Price’s frustration, but the real question going forward is how long can this kid continue to be squeezed by unrealistic expectations?
Roy, of course, famously exited Montreal after telling former owner Ronald Corey - who was sitting behind the Canadiens bench - the blowout loss he’d finally been hooked from was his final contest with the Habs.
Price looks like he’d like to throw the towel in on this chapter of his young career, too, but what he and everybody associated with the organization has to remember is his two unsuccessful playoff showings have both come before his 22nd birthday. There is still so much time for growth; it’s just going to require some deep breaths from all involved.
With Michael Ryder having burned his old team for four goals and seven points in Boston’s four-game sweep of Montreal, the real question for the Canadiens is, which soon-to-be former Hab will haunt them most next season?
The Canadiens can officially start turning their attention to the fact basically all their impact forwards, plus shutdown defenseman Mike Komisarek, are eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer. Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Alex Kovalev can all leave as UFAs, just as Ryder did last year when he signed a three-year deal with the Bruins.
At this point, what’s the long-term motivation for Montreal to retain any of those three forwards? Koivu has had a courageous run as Habs captain, but he also epitomizes the team’s shortcomings over the last decade-plus; he’s skilled but small, good but not great.
There’s no way Montreal builds a championship team with Kovalev, Koivu and Tanguay as the core, so why not let them all go, create a whack of salary cap space and keep cultivating a strong group of prospects? An ancillary benefit is the Canadiens would enter next season under inverse circumstances as this year, meaning with much lower expectations, but far more room for legitimate long-term growth.
I know one goalie who would appreciate that.
As for the Bruins, they couldn’t have had a better night and first round overall. The way things are shaping up, after stomping the No. 8 seed in Round 1, it’s increasingly likely they’ll face the seventh-seeded New York Rangers in Round 2, but not before getting an extended rest.
The matchups couldn’t be forming better for the B’s – depending on how scared you think they should be of Lundqvist.
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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