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Washington Capitals are stood up by a hot goalie who pulls out all the stops

Washington fires 54 shots at Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak and manages only one goal as the Canadiens knot the Eastern Conference series, 3-3.

It's gone, just like a 3-1 series lead.

Part of the allure of the last three riveting playoff series was how the Caps managed to will their way back into a series, down 3-1 twice and 3-2 against the Penguins before David Steckel deflected in that game-winner that made Pittsburgh go dead quiet. Emerging on home ice with monster momentum after evening the series, now Washington is the team that gave back a three-games-to-one lead in a series the Caps had so many opportunities to put away before things became so critical Monday night in Montreal.

Because of Halak, because they have made the Canadiens pay for their penalties just one measly time out of 30 power-play opportunities -- and certainly because Ovechkin and his teammates have not yet learned to play from a position of strength -- it's time to officially envision the possibility that the current hood ornament for Washington-region pro sports teams could in all likelihood be knocked off by a bunch of less talented, but more committed players and their fearless and fabulous goaltender.

The defining moment came early, after the two-goal lead. The Capitals were on a 5-on-3 power play with more than five minutes left in the first period. For the uninitiated, that means Washington's great hockey players -- top -- seeded in the Stanley Cup playoffs, losers of just 15 games in regulation all season -- had two extra men on the ice because the Canadiens committed a pair of two-minute penalties in a blink.

Now, it would hold that a team thought to be a superior group of players, believed by everyone who knows this game to be much better at 5-on-5 skating than the Canadiens, would be lethal with Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Brooks Laich against three defenders and Halak.

Statistically speaking, teams at 5-on-3 strength score more than three times as much as teams on the power play on 5-on-4 strength.

That should be an open net for the most talented team in the NHL. Boudreau is even fond of saying, "If you can't convert 5 on 3, you usually don't win."

You know what happened. They couldn't find the net because Halak kept finding the puck. He was so good, bringing the building to a crescendo and to its feet after stopping a third-period flurry in front of the net that ended with Ovie just dumbfounded that the mere connection of his stick with the puck inches from the net did not result in a score.

Halak also robbed Joe Corvo on a point-blank rocket with 14 minutes left in the second period, catching a slingshot of hard rubber in the leather of his glove with the left hand. He flicked his glove high in almost a flourish afterward as the towels came out and tumult of tonsils and sound began anew.

This is how good the team with the worst record in the NHL postseason is feeling about itself: The Canadiens' goalie is now Manny Ramírez, showboating on the warning track after robbing someone of a home run.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin was a symbol of the Caps' frustration. When he scooted in unmolested and tried to backhand it softly past Halak on the same power play, the unshaken goalie covered up quickly as Ovie veered out of control behind the net on his knees, essentially a hydroplaning car awaiting its fate with a guardrail.

Putting this on Semyon Varlamov would be easy. Putting this on Semin and Green would be easy, because they have become high-paid scapegoats.

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