Lost Sticks, Lost Game – When the Stanley Cup playoffs roll around every spring, we’re reminded of just how much the little things matter. The Caps lost Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night at Verizon Center, falling 4-3 in double overtime. The loss squares the series at a game apiece as the scene shifts north to Toronto for Games 3 and 4.
Kasperi Kapanen’s second goal of the game came at 11:53 of the second extra session on Saturday, and it was abetted by Caps defenseman John Carlson losing hold of his stick on the play. Without a twig in hand, Carlson tried but was unable to make a sliding block on Kapanen’s game-winner.
Late in the first period, the Caps suffered a similar fate on the Leafs’ first goal of the game. Washington blueliner Matt Niskanen lost his stick, and Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner took note, spinning off a check high in the zone and advancing down to the slot where Niskanen was able to separate him from the puck despite not having a stick. But the puck went right to James van Riemsdyk, and the ever-dangerous winger is even more deadly from prime real estate. He buried a shot to give the Leafs a first period lead for the second time in as many games.
Carry Fourth – Two nights after fourth-line Washington winger Tom Wilson scored in overtime to give the Capitals a Game 1 victory, the Leafs got the game-winner from their fourth-line in the second overtime.
Kapanen, a 20-year-old rookie, failed to score or record a point in his first 15 regular season games. When he netted his first NHL goal a week ago in Toronto’s penultimate regular season game, it was a big one. It tied the score late in the third period of a game against Pittsburgh, a game the Leafs eventually won to clinch their berth in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.
On Saturday, Kapanen upped the ante. He netted his first career playoff goal late in the second period to tie the game at 2-2, and then scored the game-winner after the Caps were guilty of icing the puck and weren’t able to win the ensuing draw in their own end.
Playing on Toronto’s fourth line with seasoned veterans Brian Boyle and Matt Martin, Kapanen supplied half of the Maple Leafs’ offense in a critical contest.
“Heroes are different every night usually in the playoffs,” says Caps right wing Justin Williams. “Sometimes, the guys who are a little bit more rested have a little bit more energy. It just goes to show you that in overtime in the playoffs, you need everybody and depth shows up. So we’ll get ready for Game 3.”
Easter Ghosts – Saturday night’s double-overtime loss came on the night before Easter Sunday, which has traditionally been a rugged time for the Capitals playing in multiple overtime games on home ice.
Back on April 18, 1987 – which was also the night before Easter that year – the Caps came out on the short end of a 3-2 final in Game 7 of their opening round series with the New York Islanders, a contest that required four overtimes (a total of 68:47 in extra time. The Isles’ Pat Lafontaine ended that game when he scored on Washington netminder Bob Mason.
Some 16 years later, the Capitals lost a triple-overtime home playoff game at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Easter Sunday afternoon. That April 20, 2003 loss came in Game 6 and eliminated the Caps from the playoffs that spring. Martin St. Louis supplied the game-winner, beating Olie Kolzig on a Lightning power play that came about because the Capitals were caught with too many men on the ice.
Saturday night’s home playoff loss was the Caps’ first overtime setback at Verizon Center since May 2, 2012 when the New York Rangers’ Marian Gaborik beat Braden Holtby late in the third overtime session.
The Capitals are 3-9 in the dozen multiple-overtime games they’ve played over the years, and they are 1-5 at home in games of that ilk. Their lone home ice victory in a multiple-overtime game came on April 11, 1985 when Mike Gartner scored at 1:23 of the second overtime.
Overall, in all Stanley Cup playoff overtime games, the Capitals are now 25-33.
Leading Men – During the 2016-17 regular season, the Capitals scored the game’s first goal in 58 of 82 games, going 46-7-5 in those contests. But Toronto has scored the game’s first goal in each of the first two games of this series, and Washington has owned a lead for only 3:19 of the 157:08 of hockey the two teams have played in the series to date.
“It’s only two games, but we certainly haven’t scored the first goal twice,” says Williams. “We’ll try to do that in Game 3."
Man Down – Toronto blueliner Roman Polak departed Saturday’s game late in the second period after absorbing a heavy hit from Washington’s Brooks Orpik. The hit was legal and clean, but Polak landed awkwardly and appeared to twist his leg underneath him upon hitting the ice.
After the game, Leafs coach Mike Babcock confirmed that Polak would be lost to the Leafs for the remainder of the season.
Already playing without Nikita Zaitsev, second on the Leafs in average ice time (22:01 a night) among defensemen during the regular season, the loss of Polak left Toronto with just five defensemen the rest of the way, and only three – Gardiner, Morgan Rielly and Matt Hunwick – in which the coaching staff seems to have a great deal of trust.
Martin Marincin turned the puck over on Wilson’s game-winner in Game 1, and he was a healthy scratch for 30 of the Leafs’ last 32 regular season games. The Leafs also have ex-Cap Connor Carrick, but he gets just over 16 minutes a night and was parked on the bench for more than seven minutes straight in the second period on Saturday, before Polak’s injury.
Gardiner finished the night with 40:34 in ice time, Rielly at 39:56 and Hunwick at 35:46. All three of them finished ahead of the Caps’ leading ice time man among defensemen, Matt Niskanen (33:56).
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears concluded their regular season slate on a high note Saturday night, whitewashing the Providence Bruins 3-0 at Giant Center. The win enabled the Bears to leapfrog the Bruins in the standings, setting up a best-of-five first-round playoff series against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Vitek Vanecek made 28 saves to record his fifth shutout of the season, and he got offensive support from Jakub Vrana (his 19
th goal of the season), Dustin Gazley (his first) and Mattias Backman (his fourth). Vrana’s goal came on the power play and Gazley’s came while Hershey was shorthanded.
Christian Thomas had two assists for Hershey, which finished the 2016-17 regular season at 43-22-8-3 and 97 points, good for third place in the Atlantic Division, four points behind the Phantoms.
Hershey visits Lehigh Valley for Game 1 of its first-round series on Friday, April 21.
By The Numbers – Niskanen led the Capitals with 10 hits … Alex Ovechkin led Washington with nine shots on net and a dozen shot attempts … Karl Alzner led the Caps with seven blocked shots … Nicklas Backstrom won 11 of 19 draws (58%).