By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010; D01
Bruce Boudreau stood behind the bench, staring blankly out at the ice. Alex Ovechkin dropped to one knee, his head bowed.
Moments after the Montreal Canadiens had sealed a 2-1 victory in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, not the coach, not his star player, not the capacity crowd on hand at Verizon Center could believe that a season that began amid hopes of a ticker-tape parade down Pennsylvania Avenue had instead ended in ignominy.
The Washington Capitals, who finished the regular season with a franchise-record 54 wins and 121 points, became the ninth No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed, but the first to blow a three-games-to-one series lead in the process. The collapse also marked the eighth time the Capitals blew a two-game series lead and the fourth time they surrendered a 3-1 edge.
"I told them I felt exactly like they did," Boudreau said. "I thought we had a good chance to win the Stanley Cup this year. I would have bet my house that they wouldn't have beaten us three games in a row and that we wouldn't have scored only three goals [the past three games]."
Fittingly, the loss came to an end with the Capitals on a power play in which they enjoyed a 6-on-4 advantage with goaltender Semyon Varlamov (14 saves) on the bench. But instead of Washington tying the game, Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak (41 stops) clamped down and shut out the Capitals' power play for the third consecutive game. The top-ranked unit entering the playoffs, the Ovechkin-led power play finished an astonishing 1 for 33.
"I have nothing to say right now," said Ovechkin, who, like his teammates, is headed home for a long summer, one that begins with more questions than answers.
The Canadiens, meantime, are set to meet Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the semifinals starting Friday.
"It really hurts," Eric Fehr said. "We thought we had a really good chance to make a good run. It seemed like we had everything going heading into the playoffs . . . but come playoff time, we couldn't get it all going at the same time."
The Capitals' top-ranked offense, which racked up 313 goals in the regular season and 17 in Games 2-4, mustered a measly three -- total -- in the final three games of this series. Alexander Semin and Mike Green, two of the team's leaders on offense, finished with a combined total of five assists and no goals.
Brooks Laich scored his second goal of the series with 2 minutes 16 seconds left, cutting the Capitals' 2-0 deficit and giving them some semblance of hope. That hope, though, was fleeting.
They were unable to squeeze another puck past Halak, who stopped 131 of the 134 shots he faced in the series' final three games. And what shots he didn't stop found the stick blade or shin pad of one of the Montreal players, who blocked an absurd total of 41 shots (to the Capitals' 11).
"They blocked 41 shots, which I've never seen," Boudreau said.
The final game in a series marked by controversy did not end without one more.
The Capitals thought they had tied the game, 1-1, on a goal by Ovechkin just 24 seconds into the third period. But the apparent goal was immediately waved off by referee Brad Watson, who ruled that Mike Knuble had knocked over Halak in his crease before the shot entered the net.
"It feels like you're whining . . . but that's a pretty tough one to take," Boudreau said. "If Knuble's right foot touched his pad. It looked like it didn't. If it did, it was so light. I thought the puck was in the net before that anyway."
Knuble added: "ate tThat's a violation that hasn't been called all year. You haven't seen it all year, and now it comes out in Game 7."
The end result, in many ways, seemed incongruous with the Capitals' effort. For long stretches, beginning early on, they seemed to control the game. In all, they outshot the Canadiens by a whopping 26 shots.
They came out strong, taking a 4-0 lead in shots before the game was three minutes old. A few minutes later, Semin hit the post. But the Capitals' fifth shot didn't arrive until the 16-minute mark. And by then, the Canadiens had established themselves as legitimate contenders for an historic upset.
Then the Habs took the lead on during a 4-on-3 advantage. With Brendan Morrison and Tomas Plekanec in the box for roughing, Green was assessed a cross-checking minor while on the attack in the offensive zone.
Only 12 seconds later, Marc-Andre Bergeron drilled a one-timer from Scott Gomez past Varlamov, sending the Canadiens into the second period with a 1-0 lead.
"It wasn't a smart play by Mike," Boudreau said of Green, who took two of the team's four minor infractions.
Gill and the Canadiens made sure the second period ended scoreless. After blocking 12 shots in the first period, the visitors, led by 6-foot-7, 250-pound Gill, blocked 14 more in the second.
"That's playoff hockey," Canadiens Coach Jacques Martin said. "It's a commitment from the players."
After Ovechkin's disallowed goal, the Capitals finished the third period with an 18-5 shot advantage.
Some of that was Halak. Some of that, though, was the inability of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Semin and Green to finish, despite a total of 23 shots, led by Ovechkin's 10.
"We had some tremendous looks [and] Halak made some great saves," Boudreau said. "His positioning was fabulous. But we had some great looks that we should have been able to put some pucks in the net."
They didn't. And, as a result, these Capitals will be remembered for they failed to accomplish in the playoffs rather than the Presidents' Trophy they claimed for a stellar regular season.
"They are all noted goal scorers," Boudreau said of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin and Green. "All four of them were beyond remorse in the dressing room. They cared and they tried. Nobody tried as much as Alex and Nicky. Sometimes you just don't score goals. Sometimes the other team takes you away."