Did I really just see Montreal eliminate Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals from the Stanley Cup playoffs?
I'm going to be quite honest with you. I pride myself on knowing a thing or two about pro hockey, and I like to think I have a knack for filling out brackets (not that my NCAA bracket this year would reflect that statement...), but I did NOT see this coming. When the round one pairings were made public before the playoffs started, I really did consider sending a condolence card to the Canadiens. Unfortunately, Hallmark hasn't come out with an "I'm sorry to hear you're taking on the Capitals in the first round" card yet, so I did no such thing. At the time, it seemed unfair to pair the top team in the league, with a team that barely earned a playoff spot. Montreal made the news just before the trade deadline after then-GM Bob Gainer stepped down after five and a half mediocre seasons with the team. At that point, I figured the Habs would just try to stay afloat for the remainder of the season, and then start fresh next year with a new regime. I would've never thought that they'd take the Capitals to seven games, let alone kill a penalty at the tail end of the third period and knock them out of the playoffs.
Cut me open and I bleed gold and black. I've been a Pittsburgh Penguins fan since I was a little girl (if you don't believe me, stop by my place and check out my sweet Pittsburgh Penguin themed master bathroom, no joke). Even with that said, I can still respect that the Washington Capitals are a damn good team, and the talent doesn't stop at Ovechkin. Backstrom, Knuble, Poti, Green, Laich, Semin... that team is stocked with well-rounded players that will product you points and dig you out of whatever trouble your goaltender gets into.
Their head coach Bruce Boudreau is a genius. Prior to the Capitals, Boudreau was the head coach for the Caps farm team Hershey Bears. As a hockey fan here in Milwaukee, I know all too well about the Boudreau and the Bears, as they beat my hometown team, the Milwaukee Admirals, and won the AHL's Calder Cup in 2006. In fact, a lot of those guys you see in Caps uniforms today were on that 2006 Hershey team. Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz and Boyd Gordon were all on that Bears team, and are now permanent fixtures on the Capitals roster. They were good then, and they are even better now.
So how exactly did Montreal take this series to seven games and win the series? Two things: great goaltending and great defense. Plain and simple. Halak? Are you kidding me? That guy sat on the waiver wire of my fantasy hockey league for a better part of the season because no one thought he was really that good of a netminder. In fact, if I remember correctly, Montreal almost dealt him to Dallas before the trade deadline in hopes of making a deal for some offensive talent. Now look, this guy is an NHL superstar. By the end of next week, his head will be on a Canadian postage stamp.
Certainly was a fun game to watch. Did not end how I thought it would considering Washington was on the power-play the last two minutes of the game. As a Pens fan, I am a little worried about facing the Habs in the second round. Momentum is a big thing in hockey, and Montreal certainly has the momentum coming into this series.
Montreals win certainly shakes things up on the eastern conference. Things are about to get real interesting, hockey fans...