Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak (41), of Slovakia, stops the puck against Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (19), of Sweden, during the first period of Game 7 of the NHL hockey playoff series, Wednesday, April 28, 2010, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
WASHINGTON - Alex Ovechkin, coach Bruce Boudreau and the rest of the Presidents' Trophy-winning, high-scoring Washington Capitals were feeling pretty good about their chances in the first round of the playoffs after taking a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens.
So much for that.
Thanks in large part to Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak and his shot-blocking teammates, Washington's season is over far sooner than expected.
"We all feel as low as we can possibly feel," Boudreau said, "and we'll meet in a day, and we'll discuss the should've-beens and could've-beens at that particular time."
Halak made 41 saves in his latest spectacular, acrobatic performance, the other Canadiens combined to stop a whopping 41 other shots before they reached him, and eighth-seeded Montreal held on to beat Washington 2-1 in Game 7 on Wednesday night for a third consecutive victory.
"Before the series started, no one gave us a chance to win, not even one game," said Halak, who stopped 131 of Washington's 134 shots in Games 5-7. "We proved (to) them they were wrong."
The Canadiens are the ninth No. 8 team to knock off a No. 1 in 32 matchups since the NHL went to its current playoff format in 1994 – and the first to come back to win after trailing 3-1 in the series.
All in all, it was a monumental collapse by Washington, which earned a third straight Southeast Division title, compiled the league's best record for the first time, led the NHL in goals?and appeared to have full control of this series.
One indication of what the Capitals were hoping for in 2010: Each home game against Montreal was preceded by a video display that included an image of the Stanley Cup and the words, "NOTHING ELSE MATTERS," while the Metallica song of that name blared.
"I thought we had a good chance to win the Stanley Cup this year," Boudreau said, "and I would have bet my house that they wouldn't have beaten us three games in a row and we would have only scored three goals in almost 140 shots."
Indeed, the Capitals were limited to one or zero goals only three times in their first 86 games this season, including the playoffs. And then Halak did it three times in a row.
He was yanked during Game 3 in favour of Carey Price, who also started Game 4. But Martin went back to Halak for Game 5 – a switch that worked out rather well. Halak made 37 saves in a 2-1 win in Game 5, 53 saves in a masterpiece of a 4-1 victory in Game 6, and then produced more of the same Wednesday.
"I'm in shock right now. I don't know what to say," said Ovechkin, the NHL's two-time MVP and a 50-goal scorer four of his five seasons in the league. "We know we can win, but we don't win. It's pretty hard."
Montreal defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron scored a 4-on-3 goal in the last 30 seconds of the opening period after Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green was sent off for cross-checking. Dominic Moore made it 2-0 with 3