WASHINGTON -- Jaroslav Halak showed Friday night that maybe Alex Ovechkin had him all wrong, that maybe his hand was caught on camera shaking earlier in this series because he was, in fact, simply squeezing a water bottle.
Halak didn't show any nerves in Game 6. In fact, of the 38 players on the ice, there were none better than the Montreal Canadiens' maligned goalie, who came up with 37 season-saving stops to preserve a tight 2-1 Canadiens' victory at Verizon Center.
"You know what, (Ovechkin) can say what he wants," Halak said, finally responding to Ovechkin's comments about the goalie being nervous during Game 2. "I mean, maybe it showed it on video, but I think if you squeeze the bottle your hand is going to shake. That's what I think. I don't think I was nervous, even tonight. I did the same thing tonight. I was squeezing the bottle the same way. If you squeeze the bottle your hand is going to shake."
With Shakegate now past us for good, the Montreal Canadiens head home to La Belle Province feeling confident because their goalie -- the guy they say is the reason they are even playing in this series -- is back.
Halak was rocked for nine goals on 50 shots after a brilliant 45-save performance in Game 1. He was relieved by Carey Price after giving up three goals on four shots in a span of 7:27 during the second period of Game 3.
Then, he watched Game 4 with a baseball cap on.
But Habs coach Jacques Martin said Friday morning that he was going back to Halak and not Price for Game 5 because every time the Canadiens needed to win a big game down the stretch, the Slovak sensation was the one between the pipes.
Martin had confidence in Halak and it paid off in a monumental way. Without him, the Canadiens are probably clearing out their lockers in their Brossard training facility this weekend instead of smelling the joint up after some intense practices before Game 6 Monday night.
"He was, for sure (the best player on the ice)," Canadiens right wing Brian Gionta said. "Those three or four big saves in the third period, coming down the stretch, wins us that game."
Halak made 15 saves in the first period and another 10 in the second but, as Gionta said, it was a handful of the 12 shots he stopped in the third period that will force the Bell Centre to open its doors to 21,000-plus Monday night.
During a Washington power play early in the period, Halak simply stoned the slumping Alexander Semin with an upper-body save on a one-timer from the slot. With five seconds left on the power play, he made a fabulous cross-crease, diving stop on the similarly slumping Tomas Fleischmann from the right post.
"The one on Semin, I was just in the right place," said Halak, who forced the Capitals' power play into an 0-for-5 night with 11 saves on the penalty kill. "The one on Fleischmann, he kind of waited a little bit and gave me a little time to move side to side. It hit me in the blocker."
"That was one of those ball-hockey, street hockey, throw the blocker out, amazing reaction saves," Habs left wing Michael Cammalleri said of the stop on Semin. "Yeah, that was a statement for him."
Goalie - MTL
GAA: 3.24 | SVP: 0.911As great as Halak was on each shot, the Capitals blamed themselves for not scoring.
"When you have players that are supposed to be scorers and miss really good looks it is like a checker not doing his job in my mind," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "They've got to score those goals."
Added Alex Ovechkin, who did score the Capitals' lone goal Friday night: "Sasha (Semin) has to score in the middle when he had the chance. Flash (Fleischmann), too. Our top guys have to score goals."
There was no moaning in the Canadiens dressing room, only confident stares at Halak from every corner of the room.
He came back with a vengeance Friday night.
"In the playoffs, every game is a different game, and if you lose you have to put it behind you because if you still think about it you put yourself in a bad spot and we don't want that," Halak said. "If you lose there is a new game coming up, and we have to make sure we're ready for that one."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl