Washington Capitals are stood up by a hot goalie who pulls out all the stops
MONTREAL So, this building of guttural roars is up two goals to nil early, and it's rocking -- I mean, just b-b-b-booming inside the Bell Centre, louder than fury unleashed in Washington. Louder, according to the arena's decibel meter, than any moment in its 14-year history after the second goal.
The white towels begin pirouetting above the throaty throng, and all of Quebec is relying on one man to again stone the most explosive offense in the NHL and keep the season alive for at least one more game.
Jaroslav Halak glances up at the time, clicks his goalie stick against the metal piping, bends his knees, digs in and does the impossible: He takes away the Capitals' mojo; he seizes every puck, every chance from a disbelieving Alex Ovechkin and his frustrated team, who are used to rolling sevens but not having an elimination game forced upon them by someone else.
It's a frightening window into this suddenly-even Eastern Conference quarterfinal series:
The goaltender of the most proud and decorated pro franchise in Canada, sprawling, diving, doing the splits as if he were doing his compulsories on the balance beam than minding the net. The greatest Canadiens goalies ever, Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, had to see shades of themselves in Halak.
Fifty-three saves, in a game his team was incredibly outgunned by 32 shots.
"I'd say in terms of playoff hockey I've seen -- of course I've only covered the Canadiens for the past 55 years -- that's the best goaltending I've seen next to Patrick Roy against the Rangers in overtime ," said Red Fisher, 82, high above the Bell Centre ice. "Roy stopped 13 shots in overtime that night before the Canadiens had one shot -- and Claude Lemieux scored on it. Other than that, tonight was the greatest."
Did we mention Fisher's first Canadiens assignment was the night Montreal rioted because Maurice "Rocket" Richard had been suspended a game?
"Sometimes goalies get into a zone where nothing was going to beat him," said the Caps' coach, Bruce "Wake Me When It's Game 7" Boudreau. "He got into that zone."
It's not just the language or the rich food anymore, people. This man in the net for Montreal who sees everything has made everything feel so strange and foreign.
Heading into their fourth elimination night at Verizon Center in three years under Gabby, the Capitals have lost something that was theirs since last fall.
The power -- the knowing confidence of a team ready to make the transition from very good to hoisting the Cup.