Is Montreal's bubble about to burst?
MONTREAL -- It seems early to be at a crossroads, but that moment will be at hand for the Montreal Canadiens in Monday night's Game 3.
Yes, we have read the parity memo. As of Sunday morning, seven of eight series were knotted at 1 (Nashville and Chicago were set to play their second game Sunday night). Anyone can win. Blah, blah, blah.
Maybe it's just a feeling, a sense brought on by the depth of talent percolating across the way in the Washington dressing room and the swagger that seems to have returned for the best regular-season team. But from the moment the puck dropped on this entertaining series, it has been about waiting for the dike to burst on the plucky Habs.
On Saturday night, the water started spurting everywhere.
The Canadiens could not hold leads of 2-0, 4-1 and 5-4, losing 6-5 in overtime on Nicklas Backstrom's quick wrist shot 31 seconds into the extra session.
It doesn't matter how often you trot out the "we came here for a road split" argument (and it was repeated liberally by Montreal on Sunday) or talk about how close this series is with each team winning in overtime in Washington. It is disingenuous and suggests it's OK to come unglued in the manner the Canadiens did in Game 2.
"I want to emphasize we've played six games against the Capitals [this season]," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said Sunday. "Four of them have been in overtime. The goal differential has been one in six games. It just shows how great the competition is, and the fans have been treated with two outstanding games from the start to the end."
Ah, the ol' "close but no cigar" theory of playoff coaching. We remember it fondly from the days when Martin's Ottawa Senators were regularly bounced in the first round by the underdog Toronto Maple Leafs.
The only way the "we got what we wanted by splitting" argument holds any water is if the Canadiens take care of business at home, and that starts Monday night. Not a moment later.
Hey, it's the playoffs. Could the Canadiens lose Game 3 and still win this series? Sure. But what are the chances of that happening, really? Go to the "lightning striking twice" section in the book of long shots and that's where you'll find the Habs' chances if they lose Game 3.
"It seems like the focus is all about last night's game," Martin said. "Our focus right now is tomorrow night's game. We've already dealt with last night's game. Right now, what's important is tomorrow night's competition. We've got to be prepared to compete."
This isn't to suggest the Canadiens were lucky to get the split. They have done some things people thought would be difficult for them to accomplish in this series. The Capitals were the runaway leaders in 5-on-5 goals during the regular season, scoring 213 times at full strength. The Canadiens were dead last with just 132 5-on-5 goals. Yet, through the first two games, the Habs have scored six times at even strength compared to Washington's eight.
If they can continue to keep producing at full strength plus keep enjoying a productive power play (they have a PP goal in each of the first two games), the Habs have a chance. But we suspect the outcome will be determined by head space as much as game plan. Can this team do what it says it will, which is to put Saturday's game behind them?
Veteran center Scott Gomez won two Cups in New Jersey and recalled learning how to forget those painful moments and move on. During the 2000 playoffs, the Devils beat Philadelphia on the road 4-1 in the first game of the Eastern Conference finals and then dropped Game 2 by a 4-3 count despite dominating the Flyers.
"I was a young kid saying, what the hell just happened?" he said. "That was one loss that I think we learned from. We dwelled on it the next game because we had literally dominated them. It just shows you. We regrouped."
The Devils bounced back and defeated the Flyers in seven games and went on to beat Dallas in the Cup finals.
"The teams that learn the quickest [to forget] are probably the ones that are more successful," Gomez said. "If you start dwelling on that, you're just going to hurt yourself. Even if [they] have a lead the next game, you can't start thinking, 'Oh geez, here we go, here we go.' You're not going to go anywhere, I mean, it's over."
We'll see Monday just how good the Canadiens are at the forgetting business and if they can get back to the business of upsetting the Washington Capitals.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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