WASHINGTON - APRIL 28: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the Montreal Canadiens shakes hands with Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals following the Canadiens 2-1 win in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 28, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
It was a miracle when the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team beat the Russians and went on to win the gold.
What happened in the first-round playoff series between the Capitals and Canadiens was the NHL equivalent.
Les Habitants stunned the hockey world by beating the top seed in the NHL playoffs in seven games, coming back from a 3-1 series deficit and capping off the upset Wednesday night with an incredible 2-1 victory at the Verizon Center.
The loss stunned everyone at the Phone Booth -- fans, players and coaches alike.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau said he and the players didn't talk much in the locker room after the biggest playoff disappointment in team history.
"There's no sense of me saying anything right now," Boudreau said. "We all feel as low as we can possibly feel."
The Habs' plan worked to perfection in Game 7. Montreal fended off Washington's early assault thanks to goaltender Jaroslav Halak, took a 1-0 lead at the end of the first and then played tight-checking hockey the rest of the way.
"They played a perfect game," Boudreau said. "I thought we played a perfect game for the most part. They blocked 41 shots. We had some tremendous looks. (Halak) made some great saves. But we should have been able to put some pucks by him."
Marc-Andre Bergeron gave the Habs the lead they needed with 30 seconds remaining in the first period. With Mike Green in the box for cross-checking, the Canadians worked the puck around in the offensive zone until Scott Gomez split two defenders with a pass to the right point. Bergeron one-timed a wicked shot that blistered past Semyon Varlamov's blocker and into the net.
Montreal then played shut-down hockey for the next two periods, keeping all of Washington's top scorers at bay.
Finally, it looked like the Caps broke through 30 seconds into the third when Alex Ovechkin scored on a shot from the left circle, but the goal was waived off. The referee said that Mike Knuble had interfered with Halak in his crease.
The Canadiens had a goal of their own waived off about 11 minutes later on another interference call. Mike Cammalleri missed another chance with 6 minutes left to make it 2-0 when his backhander hit the far post to the left of Varlamov.
Was it the break the Caps needed? Almost. With 4 minutes left Ovechkin picked up a puck in his own end and went coast-to-coast down the right wing. His shot found a way through Halak but ended up squirting wide of the goal.
The Habs took full advantage of Ovechkin's inability to score when he needed to. Dominic Moore gave Montreal much-needed insurance just 30 seconds later with a goal of his own. Hal Gill chipped a puck into the Montreal zone to the left of Varlamov. Mike Green and Maxim Lapierre raced after the puck, and Lapierre knocked the Norris Trophy candidate off the puck, allowing Moore to swoop in, pick up the loose biscuit and fire it past Varlamov on the blocker side.
The Caps made one final push, and with just over two minutes to go they finally were able to get one (legally) past Halak. And they did it the hard way. Montreal finally made a mistake in their own end. A failed clearing attempt was scooped up by Ovie in the left circle, and he quickly pushed a weak backhander toward the net. The puck his some bodies in front and dropped in the crease, where Brooks Laich found a way to push it into the net to make it 2-1.
Jason Chimera had a chance to tie it with 2 minutes to play, but his shot toward an open net to the right of Halak -- thanks to a nifty pass by John Carlson -- was tipped out of play by the stick of Josh Gorges.
Their last chance came just 15 seconds later when Ryan O'Byrne was called for high-sticking. But the Caps' power play, which was anemic the entire series, failed to come through, even with a 6-on-4 advantage.
The Habs were able to kill the rest of the time off the clock, and killed the Caps' Stanley Cup dreams in the process.
After the game there were many more questions than answers. The biggest? Where were the Caps' offensive superstars? Ovechkin didn't score in Game 7. Neither did Nicklas Backstrom. Green once again took bad penalties and didn't make his presence known in either end of the ice. And Alexander Semin? Well, he went the whole series without a goal after scoring 40 in the regular season.
"All four of them were like almost beyond remorse in the locker room," Boudreau said. "They cared and they tried. No one tried more. Sometimes you just don't score goals. The other team takes you away."
The power play was also a non-factor for the Caps, something that wasn't expected entering the postseason.
"Give Montreal credit," Boudreau said. "We had a power play this year that, after October, was going close t0 30 percent the rest of the year. We were 1 for 33."
At least one thing is now clear. There will be plenty of time in the off-season for the Capitals organization to figure out what went wrong. If they really want to re-live it, that is.