The Washington Capitals entered Game 5 Friday night at Verizon Center with a chance to clinch the series. The Capitals had won Games 2, 3, and 4 after dropping Game 1 by a combine score of 17-9, and after trailing the Canadiend 4-1 late in the second period of Game 2 had outscored Montreal 16-5.
However, on Friday night, the Canadiens got an unconscious performance from rookie netminder Jaroslav Halak, who was making his first start in the series since being pulled in the second period of Game 3 after allowing three goals in 8:33.
Halak stopped 37 of 38 shots including all 12 he saw in the third period to help the Canadiens to a 2-1 win, and a Game 6 in Montreal on Monday night.
The Halak the Capitals saw on Friday night was not the Halak they chased to the bench in Game 3. His eye-popping stop on Tomas Fleischmann from below the right circle on a rebound with just over 12 minutes to go was final proof that the Capitals were fighting a loosing battle.
But, it was evident from the outset that the Capitals weren't going to victimize Halak the way they did in the third period and overtime in Game 2 and in the second period of Game 3. Halak stopped all 15 shots he faced and was the primary reason the Capitals were unable to capitalize on two early power plays.
The Capitals, once again, struggled on the power play. They had three opportunities in the first 21:06 of the game and came up empty handed, and failed to score a power play goal for the fourth time in five games of this series.
So, what happens now?
The series shifts to Bell Centre on Monday where the Capitals have already won twice in this series. Is it conceivable they Capitals will overcome this loss and muster up enough confidence to end the series in a hostile environment? I think so, but these are circumstances the Capitals have yet to face.
This is the first time since returning to the playoffs in 2008 that the Capitals have had a chance to clinch a series before Game 7. Furthermore, this current group of Capitals is now 1-3 in series clinching games with all four of these occurances taking place at Verizon Center.
Also, this is not the first time this group of Capitals has had a double digit series lead. Let's not forget the Capitals led the Penguins two-games-to-none in last year's Eastern Conference semifinal and ended up dropping four of the next five games.
Could the memories of that experience combined with Friday night's loss cause doubt to creep into Ovechkin and his teammates' heads? It's possible, but I doubt it.
This group of Capitals has shown a tremendous ability to put tough losses behind them and push foward. They've already come back from two three-games-to-one series deficits and have won one of those series, and lost the other one in overtime.
Bell Centre will be rocking on Monday with rowdy Canadians who are full of Molson beer and primed for their beloved Canadiens to bring this series back to Washington.
The Capitals will return to Washington after Monday's game; but it won't be to prepare for a another Game 7.