Last Friday, the top-seeded Washington Capitals were set to finish off the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens. They had taken games three and four in Montreal by a combined score of 11-4 and returned home with a 3 games to 1 series lead. With a win, they could have joined the Philadelphia Flyers as Eastern Conference teams that had punched their ticket to round number two and a week off to prepare for it.
Washington won the President’s Cup…had the league’s best G/G average, (3.82)…and the highest ranked power play, (25.2%). They had survived an early-series scare, losing the first game and then trailing 4-1 in the second period of game two, but now it was time to take care of business…do away with the first-round fodder and move on.
Besides, the NHL world is really just looking forward to that Crosby/Ovechkin rematch in the Eastern Conference Finals…so this first-round is just and exercise in academics, right?
Well if so…it seems Montreal has yet to receive the memo.
Behind Jaroslav Halak’s 53 save performance and Michael Cammalleri’s two goals in game six, the Canadiens will return to D.C. …a place where they have won twice in three games…for the all important, deciding, do-or-die, there is no tomorrow, lose and go home, win and move on, game seven on Wednesday night.
So how are they doing it so far? Well, one major reason is that Halak has held off the mighty Capitals offensive juggernaut when it’s matter most…holding them to but two goals on 92 shots over the last two games. Another has to do with the Hab’s penalty kill unit allowing Washington just a single power play goal, an Ovechkin tally in game four. This even though the Caps have been afforded 28 chances on the man advantage.
That’s a kill ratio of .96.4%…and it’s helped them to get to within a game of killing off the top-seeded Capitals.
The Habs and Caps are the only series in the east still yet to be decided as Monday night the Boston Bruins finished off their 6-3 upset of the Buffalo Bruins with a 4-3 win in Beantown behind a pair of goals by David Krejci.
If Washington pulls this series out with a win Wednesday night, they will take on a much-rested Flyers squad while Boston and Pittsburgh square off. If the Canadiens come out victorious…winning three straight after being down 3 games to 1…then the Penguins become the highest remaining seed and will draw Montreal while the Bruins and Flyers would go at it in round two.
Tomorrow night we’ll be treated to a seventh game in the battle between Detroit and Phoenix. This was brought about by the Coyotes win Sunday afternoon in Motown. If the Yotes pull this out…and that’s whom I am pulling for…then that would mean all four top-ranked teams advanced setting up a Sharks-Coyotes and Canucks-Blackhawks matchup.
If Detroit wins, they will be rewarded by drawing the top-seeded Sharks.
Vancouver will face off against Chicago regardless, who played there way into the elite-eight by way of a 5-3 game-six win last night in Nashville. This, of course, was preceded by Saturday’s dramatic overtime win when Marian Hossa went from sin-bin to hero…scoring 10-seconds after being freed from the box after a boarding call with 63 second left in the third earned him five minutes in the box with the Hawks down 4-3.
Afinogenov Sighting in Birmingham
Where does one go to prepare for the World Championship? Why Birmingham, Alabama of course. At least, that is, if you are Maxim Afinogenov.
As Ray Melick of the Birmingham News reports, last Tuesday Max was in town with his girlfriend Elena Dementieva…who was there with her Russian National Team tennis teammates competing in the Fed Cup…and was looking for some ice time. So he shows up at the Pelham Ice Rink for a little adult pick-up game…to the delight of not only those he played against but for the fans that got to spend a little time with him afterwards.
Jeff Cheeseman, the director of hockey at the ice rink, said he was surprised to get a call from Afinogenov’s agent …but he was happy to make sure Max was on the list, even waiving the $10 sign-up fee.
“He was very professional, sharing the puck and everything”, Cheeseman said of the 30-year old native of Moscow who is scheduled to be a UFA this summer. “The I told him we have a little better level of competition on Thursday nights with BASH, (Birmingham Area Select Hockey). These are guys who played college or minor league, a few of the old Birmingham Bulls”.
“As a general rule, we don’t allow drop-ins”, Cheeseman continued. “We made an exception”.
As for the game…after Afinogenov scored seven goals in about ten minutes for the black team, making the score 7-2, he was “traded” over to white squad. The final score was 16-13 white…Max scoring 17 of the 29 overall goals and all three for team white after the score was 13-13.
After the game, word got around that the NHL star player was in the locker room and Max stuck around making sure everyone who wanted an autograph on a stick, jersey, puck or picture… got one.
He then thanked the players for allowing him to join them as well.
Sounds like a fun night and a good time had by all the lucky fans that happened to be at the rink that evening.