I have a friend, who is not a big hockey fan, who has a saying about playoff hockey: "Hot Goalie Wins. Period."
It's not a particularly nuanced or sophisiticated outlook on the game, but one could surmise from last night's statistics that is exactly what happened.
Hot Goalie Wins.
Jaroslav Halak made 53 saves on 54 shots last night in defeating the Capitals 4-1, sending this series to a previously unthought of seventh game.
By all accounts, Halak played a hell of a game. Veteran Montreal scribe Red Fisher told Mike Wise of the Post, "That's the best goaltending I've seen next to Patrick Roy against the Rangers in overtime [in 1986]".
A review of the shot chart, though, shows that the bulk of Washington's shots came from above the circles. And while they might have been shots on goal, they certainly wouldn't qualify as scoring chances.
Sure, sometimes a floater from the blue line, such as Joe Corvo's Game One goal, will get through a screen and go in. More often than not, though, those long range shots only serve to bolster the confidence of a net-minder.
If fact, the shot charts for Games Five and Six look an awful lot alike. And if you look at the series--excluding the empty net goals of Game Four, the Caps have scored a grand total of three goals from past the top of the circles.
So credit where it's due, but it doesn't tell the entire story.
Halak's opposite number, Semyon Varlamov, hardly distiguished himself last night. Just nine minutes into the game the Caps were down two goals.
The young goalie only faced 22 shots, and allowed three past him, including Maxim Lapierre's first career playoff goal early in the third period, further deepening the hole the Caps had to dig out of.
For what seems like the millionth time in this series, the Caps defenseman covering Lapierre (this time, Shaone Morrisonn) retreated toward his own goal instead of challenging the shooter, and Lapierre, who had a grand total of seven goals all season (and was minus-14), fired the puck past Varlamov.
It was a routine, run-of-the-mill, not-screened slap shot from the right wing circle that Varlamov just whiffed on with his catching glove. That's a save that has to be made.
Goaltending is not the only problem the Caps have. The vaunted power play went 0-for-6, and is now 1-for-30 in this series. The Caps had a five-on-three late in the first, down 2-0, and did not even register a shot on goal in 1:15 with the two-man advantage.
Montreal blocked 23 shot attempts, further adding to the mounting frustration of the Capitals goal scorers.
In sum: Hot Goalie Won, but the Caps didn't help themselves.
Thus, we move on to another agonizing Game Seven.
Capitals fans across the blogosphere, in message boards and in the twitterverse are besides themselves. Some are taking the fatalistic view, some are downright angry and vindictive, some in downright panic, relying on superstitions, and some retain a postitive, "We can do it," attititude. But the last group is the smallest in number.
The way the Caps have played the last two games, when advancing was all but a given, give no one--including themselves--any confidence heading into the elimination game.
The Washington Capitals have one more game to prove that the President's Trophy, and all the post-season award nominations, and regular season highlight reel goals mean something. A loss Wednesday, at home, to the eighth seed, will only reinforce the opinions of outsiders and naysayers about this team.
If the Caps can't find the will to win Game Seven, maybe the critics have merit.
Here are some stats for you to either embrace or stew about:
In Game Seven playoff history, the home team has won 62% off the time.
A No. 1 seed has never blown a 3-1 series lead to a No. 8 seed since the NHL adopted the current playoff oformat.
Every one of Bruce Boudreau's playoff series have gone to seven games. His record is 1-2.