And so the scene shifts back to Verizon Center once more, for yet another win-or-go-home Game 7 - except this time, coming back home is damn near inexcusable. Twice the Capitals had the Canadiens on the ropes; twice they had the chance to end Montreal's season, to put their foot on the Canadiens' collective necks and go into the second round with the confidence of a team that has killer instinct.
But twice they fell behind early. Twice they failed to capitalize on power plays. And twice they fell victim to a goaltender who suddenly seemed invincible.
As a result, they have one last chance - only this time they have to eliminate or be eliminated.
Ten more thoughts on the game:
- Friday night the Caps came out looking like a team whose mind was already on who they would face in the second round. When they finally woke up, Jaroslav Halak was there to shut the door and deny them their third period surge for which they've become notorious. Tonight that wasn't really the case, as the Caps brought a lot of energy and aggression right from the start. They just never really managed to harness it into anything productive.
- Credit where credit is due - Halak played a tremendous game. A once-in-a-lifetime (we hope) game, the kind where he was stopping pucks he couldn't see and getting help on those he couldn't stop. 53 saves on 54 shots is nothing to sneeze at, even if a lot of those shots went right into his chest, and it's hard to say the Caps weren't controlling the game for long stretches at a time - Halak won this game for his team, no question.
- And the futility of the power play continues. It's staggering to think this world class power play is being shut down like this, and it's to the point where Montreal barely has to try to kill penalties - they're in the Caps' heads. Or more accurately the Caps are in their own heads. Too many passes, too many blocked shots and too many pucks bouncing over the blue line, and the Caps are now 1-for-31. Ridiculous.
- There will be those who will criticize Alex Ovechkin for this loss. After all, they didn't win, he's the captain and he was unable to take the team on his shoulders. 8 shots on goal, 4 blocked, 2 others that missed the mark and 3 hits thrown? Yeah, sure, he wasn't trying.
- Bench Tomas Fleischmann. Do it now. Enough is enough, Boudreau - how many bad turnovers, ill-advised penalties and blown chances do you need from him before you see what the rest of us have known for a long time? He's a great guy off the ice...so keep him there.
- Alex Ovechkin: 8 shots. Brooks Laich: 6 shots. Alexander Semin: 7 shots. Mike Green: 6 shots. Joe Corvo: 10 shots. And you're telling me that not one of those could get by Halak? Ooookay.
- Speaking of Mike Green, he appears to be creeping ever closer to his first goal of this series, with a clank off a crossbar and a nice set up for Eric Fehr's deflection tonight. Good for him. Now if his defensive game would like to make an appearance, as well, that would be fan-[Franceschetti]ing-tastic. Stop second-guessing yourself, Mike, and play like we know you can play - or don't play at all. I'm not fussed either way at this point.
- Maybe it was the new lines Boudreau concocted to start this game (or the thousands of combinations that would be thrown out there as the night went on) but for whatever reason the whole team looked out of synch. You have to think mixing something up that's worked for 82 games and most of the postseason is not the way to win - and reeks of desperation.
- The magic of this team: when Fehr ended Halak's shutout bid with just under five minutes left, how many of you were leaning forward a little bit, thinking perhaps - just maybe - something miraculous was about to happen? I know I was.
- Could Max Lapierre be a bigger tool? I'm thinking...no.
So here's the deal - for now, there is no "win one game, do it sixteen times". Not tonight.
For now it is simply win one game. Win one game and move on to face the next foe. Win one game and prolong the season for who knows how long. Win one game and prove to the hockey world - and to us - that this season was not just a fluke.
Win one game.