Well, the Habs are down 3-1 to the mighty Capitals in their first-ever playoff match-up. While the fact itself wouldn't surprise anybody who hasn't seen any of the games, for those of us who have sat through every minute it is a major disappointment. The Canadiens have dominated significant portions of Games 2 and 4, but both times could not sustain the effort for a full 60 minutes and thus ended up on the losing end. It *could* have been 3-1 the other way or even a tie series, but bad breaks, bad breakdowns, and bad third periods have made the series what it is.
Tonight is Game 5 in the Caps' home barn. The crowd will of course be "Rocking the Red" and will be its usual boisterous self in support of Ovechkin and company. They will want to close out the series tonight to maximize their rest until Round Two begins, as a date with the Flyers looms on the horizon. For the Canadiens, there remains only a faint glimmer of hope. They will have to be perfect tonight in order to force a Game 6 back in Montreal. They cannot play very well for only 20, 40, 50 minutes; they must play excellent for a full three periods...and maybe even more.
The greatest burden of all falls on the shoulders of the goaltender. It is he who must stop the lethal offence led by the game's most offensive dynamo. This is the biggest game of his NHL career because if he does not win tonight, the future becomes very uncertain.
That goaltender is Jaroslav Halak.
It pains me that it is not Carey Price. However, I accept it. Halak has earned the right to bounce back tonight after Price couldn't stop the onslaught the other day. He has been very good many times this year. He will have to be tonight, because if the Habs lose tonight, not only will their season be over, but so too could the career of one of these two young men with the organization.
Both are restricted free agents this coming July, and you have to think that one of them will be moved prior to next season, whether it's a trade at the draft or via an offer sheet come July 1st. The ongoing sideshow doesn't benefit either player or the organization. Both are highly valued commodities: highly-skilled and -talented goaltenders in their early 20s that have demonstrated that they are capable of handling #1 responsibilities and carrying the load for a team. Price has the higher pedigree, but Halak has shown more this year than he has in any previous year. At 24, Halak is entering his prime years. At only 22, Price is not there yet. Both want to be #1, and there's only one goal in Montreal to tend. Something's gotta give...
Here is my ideal scenario at this point:
1. Halak is traded to a Western Conference team for a high draft pick (1st or 2nd round) and/or a prospect. This gets him out of Montreal and into a situation where we will not have to regularly deal with a Price v. Halak debate.
2. Re-sign Carey Price to a medium-term deal for decent money. Two years would be ideal, since he'd only be 24 and thus not yet eligible to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the contract but the Habs would be able to make the judgment at that time whether he deserves the long-term deal that keeps him in the bleu, blanc, et rouge for life.
3. The Canadiens acquire a veteran goaltender that can provide leadership and mentor Price. They can be assured of seeing 20-30 games (depending on their performance as well as that of Price) in order to quell the ego but still give them enough moxie to want to push Price hard to earn the role. I really wish they'd pushed to bring in Olaf Kolzig for this after Huet was traded, but that didn't happen; Price hasn't really been the same without that veteran presence since. Marty Turco is the ideal candidate. At 35, he may still field offers to be a #1 making #1 money from some teams who really need someone like him. The Canadiens may have to overpay a little bit to secure his rights. I'm not sure what other goalies are available, but he's my first pick.
I'll get into other, less happy scenarios, later.
But for now, enjoy the game. Go Habs Go!