WASHINGTON - Led by Jaroslav Halak's spectacular, acrobatic goaltending, the Montreal Canadiens slowed Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals' high-powered offense to complete an unlikely comeback and eliminate the NHL's best regular-season team in the first round.
Halak made 41 saves, Marc-Andre Bergeron scored a 4-on-3 goal in the last 30 seconds of the opening period last night, and eighth-seeded Montreal held on to beat Washington 2-1 in Game 7, stunning the Presidents' Trophy winners by reeling off three consecutive victories.
The Canadiens are the ninth No. 8 team to knock off a No. 1 in 32 matchups since the NHL went to its current playoff format in 1994 - and the first to come back from a 3-1 series deficit.
Dominic Moore made it 2-0 for the Canadiens with 3 1/2 minutes left in the third period, stealing the puck from defenseman Mike Green and beating goalie Semyon Varlamov. That silenced the home crowd - but the Capitals didn't go quietly.
Brooks Laich cut Washington's deficit to a goal by poking home a shot while down on his knees after Ovechkin put the puck on net off a rebound. That made it 2-1 with 2:16 left, and the Capitals kept pushing frantically forward, pulling their goalie for an extra attacker down the stretch.
A high-sticking penalty on Montreal defenseman Ryan O'Byrne with 1:44 to go put the Capitals on the power play, which they made a 6-on-4 skating edge with Varlamov on the bench. But Halak was up to the task every time. His teammates piled on him at the final horn, while Ovechkin skated all alone toward the other end of the ice, his stick resting on his knees, and his head bowed.
The league's two-time MVP has played in four career playoff series, and each has gone to a Game 7. The Capitals are 1-3 in those deciding contests.
Montreal, meanwhile, moves on to face Sidney Crosby and the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins in the second round, with Game 1 at Pittsburgh tomorrow. The fourth-seeded Penguins were the only higher-seeded team to win a first-round series in the Eastern Conference.
Yes, that's right: All three division champions in the East are done already - Washington, New Jersey and Buffalo.
All in all, this series represents a monumental collapse by Washington.