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ontreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak makes a save against the Washington Capitals during the first period in Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final hockey series in Washington, April 23, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Young (JIM YOUNG)
ontreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak makes a save against the Washington Capitals during the first period in Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final hockey series in Washington, April 23, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Young (JIM YOUNG)

Halak bars the door; Habs stay alive Add to ...

It hardly seemed like typical provincial relations, but Quebec decided to follow Ontario's lead in the quest to keep a Canadian team moving on in the Stanley Cup playoffs.



The Montreal Canadiens, down three games to one against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, said they were taking inspiration from the Ottawa Senators, who were down the same to the Pittsburgh Penguins but had somehow found victory the night before in the third overtime.

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"It took them two games [Thursday]to beat Pittsburgh," said Montreal forward Mike Cammalleri, "but they did."



The Senators had been given little chance in Pittsburgh; the Canadiens had similar prospects in Washington - and yet they came out in a modern version of the old Flying Frenchmen and never touched down until they, too, had won the fifth game of their series, in this case a 2-1 victory over the Capitals.



The hero of this moment was not, however, the Montreal goal scorers, but goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 37 shots and was simply brilliant in the third period. During one Washington power play, Halak first stopped Alexander Semin on a point-blank opportunity and then deftly slipped to his left to deny Tomas Fleischmann what seemed a sure Washington goal.



Minutes later, he had a save off Ovechkin when it seemed the Washington captain had a lower corner picked.



The vaunted Washington scoring machine now has scored all of one goal in its last 24 power-play opportunities.



"We have to score on the power play," said Ovechkin after the game. "We had lots of chances.



"Our top guys have got to score goals."



Thanks to a silly too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty to the Capitals with only a minute left in the game, Halak had some welcome help as he held off the final furious attempts of the east's top team. Even with goaltender Semyon Varlamov - who was himself excellent, stopping 26 of 28 shots - pulled for one more forward, Washington could not solve Halak.



That bench penalty for too many men on the ice is fast becoming a factor this spring, as hardly a game passes without one or two being called.



When they first skated out, the much-smaller Canadiens looked like an optical illusion on the Verizon Center ice - sort of a hockey equivalent of Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - but they took the game so hard to the larger Capitals that speed and determination more than compensated for size and superior skill.



Washington's Mike Knuble had warned that the Canadiens were going to be playing "for their season" and they were - desperate to prolong this series at least one more game. The two teams will meet in Game 6 Monday in Montreal.



It was Cammalleri who began matters less than two minutes into the game when he took a seeing-eye backhand pass from Andrei Markov and fired a hard wrist shot past the blocker of Varlamov for his third goal of the postseason.



Cammalleri had told reporters that a first goal would be "a little bit of an uplift" for his team, and it most assuredly was.



The Canadiens moved ahead 2-0 on a goal by Travis Moen, his first, when Moen - playing on the top line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta - was allowed to drift like a surfer across Varlamov's crease, holding the puck with admirable patience before firing a backhand into the far side of the Washington net.



The swift, pesky, effective Montreal play seemed to flummox the Capitals and frustrate their fans, who had come out to see their heroes finally capture a series without going the entire seven games and exhausting themselves.



Said the Canadiens' Travis Moen, "That's how we have to play to be successful."



The test would be, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau had promised earlier in the day, "a baptism by fire" for his highly touted first place team - yet all the fire this night seemed to lie in the bellies of the leaner, far-hungrier Canadiens.



Had Markov not hit the post late in the period, it would have been a three-goal lead for Montreal after only one period. From that point on, coach Jacques Martin had his players concentrate on defence, and it worked brilliantly.



Only Ovechkin was able to score this night for Washington, poking home a rebound early in the second period. It was the only puck that would get past Halak.



Only Ovechkin was able to score this night for Washington, poking home a rebound early in the second period. It was the only puck that would get past Halak.



**



"This game is gone, it's done," said Washington defenceman Tyler Sloan. "We don't worry about it. We just regroup. We just need to concentrate on playing in Montreal."



The Canadian teams - Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens - aren't through yet.



Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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