By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 27, 2010; D01
MONTREAL -- Verizon Center will play host to a fourth Game 7 in three seasons on Wednesday -- an almost unthinkable scenario five days ago when the Washington Capitals seized a three-games-to-one lead over the seemingly overmatched Montreal Canadiens.
But that's exactly the predicament in which Alex Ovechkin and his teammates find themselves after a Monday night at Bell Centre dominated by goalie Jaroslav Halak and another fruitless effort for a once-vaunted power play added up to a crushing 4-1 defeat.
"I thought he played pretty good," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We threw 54 shots at him. We got great looks and we missed chances. But how much of it is him and how much of it is us missing? I think it was more him than us."
The Capitals have now lost two straight games and return home for one of sport's most random events -- a seventh and decisive game in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In all, 129 series have gone to a Game 7 and the home team has won only 80 times (.620).
Each of the four playoff series under Boudreau have now gone to seven games, and the Capitals are 1-2. But there is one stat that should give fans a little comfort: A No. 1 seed has never blown a 3-1 lead to a No. 8 seed.
"The key for us is to play with the same pressure as we had tonight," Mike Knuble said. "There can't be any frustration in our game."
Halak finished with 53 saves and has now stopped 90 of the past 92 shots he's faced over the past two games. One must also wonder if he's in the Capitals' heads.
If the final 40 minutes are any indication, he most certainly is.
Halak was grandstanding glove saves to the roaring approval of the manic capacity crowd. The Capitals' sharpshooters, meantime, were attempting to put perfectly placed shots past him instead of simply shooting the puck on net and hoping for a rebound.
"That's absolutely what happens," Boudreau said. "Instead of just keep shooting you try to get too fine and pick two inch spots and what ends up going in is the shot that went in -- a wide shot that was redirected that he had no chance on."
Halak was the best player on the ice. His counterpart, Semyon Varlamov, on the other hand, has seen better days. The rookie faced only 22 shots.
"The third goal," Boudreau said, referring to Maxim Lapierre's first career playoff goal, "I'm not a goalie. But maybe he should have had it."
Goaltending, however, wasn't the only reason the Capitals lost.
In addition to taking six minor penalties, the power play went 0 for 6, including coming up empty on a 75-second two man advantage in the first period as the Canadiens clung to an early 2-0 lead. The league's top-ranked unit in the regular season is now 1 for 30 in this series.
The Capitals' best scorers also continued to struggle. Mike Green took six shots and notched an assist, but remains without a goal. Alexander Semin doesn't have a goal in his last 13 playoff games, despite taking seven shots Monday. Ovechkin also took eight shots.
"Nothing to say," Ovechkin said. "You can see how we play. I think we play great. We just didn't score. We just have to find a way to score more goals."
The only goal was scored by Eric Fehr, who redirected a shot by Green with 4 minutes 50 seconds left to play. But any hope of a Capitals comeback had ended earlier in the period when Lapierre ripped a shot over Varlamov from the top of the circle to put the Habs up 3-0 and ignite an already wild capacity crowd.
"I could," Boudreau said when asked if he would consider changing goalies. "I haven't gotten that far yet. I'm sure [José Theodore] would be ready if we decided to do that."
Halak's best work, meantime, came in the third period when he stopped 21 of 22 shots.
"Sometimes goalies get into a zone where nothing was going to beat him," Boudreau said. "He got in that zone."
The outcome was almost predictable after a fast paced first period that featured a total of 28 shots (18 by the Capitals). Despite the disparity in shots, the Canadiens headed to the dressing room buoyed by a ear-splitting ovation and in complete control of the game, 2-0, after a pair of goals by Michael Cammalleri and the failed two-man advantage for the Capitals.
After Cammalleri's second goal, the Capitals had a chance to get back into the game and take the crowd out it. But they logged only three shots on goal during a 5-on-3 advantage.
"I thought if we were going to score, that would have been it," Boudreau said. "But we were trying to be too cute again."
Capitals notes: Forwards Brendan Morrison, Scott Walker and Quintin Laing and defensemen John Erskine and Tyler Sloan were healthy scratches. . . . Top Montreal prospect P.K. Subban made his NHL playoff debut.