Going into the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Washignton Capitals were certainly the trendy pick to win it all. They had the best odds in Vegas. They had the best record in the league.
With their first round series tied 3-3, the Capitals certainly do not have to worry about the pressure of being a favorite, as they have been exposed by Montreal as not only a group of fallible mortals, but as a downright struggling hockey team.
Perhaps if the Capitals advance tomorrow night by defeating the Canadiens at home in Game 7, and then win a decisive victory in their next series, the lackluster performances will seem like a distant memory. For now, they serve as a glaring reminder that the once-hottest team in the NHL has gone cold.
Game 5 and 6’s disappointments, both contests in which the Capitals could’ve made a statement by closing the series, are in thanks large part to Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak. The 24 year-old Slovak was great in Game 5 and unreal in Game 6, stopping a franchise record 53 shots (!) in the 4-1 Montreal victory.
Sure, you can point to the obvious shortcomings the Caps have experienced. There’s the abysmal powerplay, the league’s best during the regular season, now 1-for-31 (3%) in the playoffs. Alexander Semin, Mike Green, and Tomas Fleischmann, all integral in the team’s regular season succes, have been virtual no-shows. Defense has been a liability as always, but the mental lapses and bad penalties seem to almost predictably occur just went a momentum swing is needed.
However, the fact is Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec and Jaroslav Halak have played better hockey over six games than anybody on the Capitals’ roster.
Should the Caps rally and stop the bleeding tomorrow night, they’ll get a new lease on life against Philadelphia. Judging by the history between the Caps and Philly, Washington will be anything but chalk.
Dave Gilmore covers the Capitals every Tuesday and Thursday for Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter at @BaltimoreCaps or email him at BaltimoreCaps@gmail.com