April 17 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7
Game 3, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Series tied, 1-1.
After splitting a pair of thrill-ride overtime time games in Washington to start their first-round playoff series, the Capitals and the Maple Leafs now head north to Toronto for the next two contests. Game 3 is on Monday night at Air Canada Centre as both teams vie for control of the series.
Two nights after Washington’s Tom Wilson scored in overtime to give the Caps a 3-2 win in the series opener on Thursday, Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen supplied the extra-time heroics for the Leafs with his second goal of the game at 11:53 of the second overtime.
Kapanen’s goal effectively shrinks the series to a best-of-five set and shifts the home ice advantage to the Maple Leafs.
“Nobody said we were going to win [the series] 4-0,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “We’ll move forward. It’s a battle and they’re a good team. We’re just going to play game-by-game and shift-by shift and we’re going to do our best.”
Saturday’s Game 2 was a seesaw thrill ride that featured a few lead changes, and many opportunities for both sides to win it late in regulation and in the nearly 32 minutes of overtime hockey that followed.
Both Wilson and Kapanen man the right side of the fourth line for their respective teams, reinforcing the old adage that playoff heroes often come from lower in the lineup. The 20-year-old Kapanen scored his first two playoff goals in Saturday’s game, doing so exactly one week after he netted the first goal of his NHL career against Pittsburgh, the team that drafted him in the first round (22
nd overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft.
“I’ve got a lot of energy for sure,” said Kapanen after the game. “Two big goals, and I think our team played really well today. I think we deserved to win, and I’m just really happy about the outcome.”
Kapanen’s goal kept the Leafs from going home in an 0-2 hole in the series, a situation that would have required them to win four of five in order to advance to the second round. Toronto was in a tough spot the longer Saturday’s game went, because it lost defenseman Roman Polak to a season-ending lower body injury late in the second period. That left Jake Gardiner (40:34), Morgan Rielly (39:56) and Matt Hunwick (35:46) to assume heavier than usual ice time burdens, and Martin Marincin – playing in just his fourth game in Toronto’s last 34 – to skate 30:38 after he logged less than 14 minutes in Thursday’s opener.
“It’s a great feeling to win,” says Rielly. “We were happy with the way we played [in Game 1], but to lose in overtime was tough. We’re on the other end of it tonight.
“Obviously a huge goal by Kappy, and it feels great to go home with a split. As far as the minutes go, we’ll be fine. We’ve got young legs and we’ve got lots of training staff. We know what we have to do to prepare for the next game and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we’re ready.”
The two teams have played roughly two and two-thirds games (157 minutes and 8 seconds) to this point, and 99 percent of the series to date has been played with the two teams tied or within a goal of one another. The Leafs owned the only two-goal lead for either team in the first two games; they were up by a pair for less than three minutes in the first period of Game 1.
“There are two good teams playing good hockey,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom, who netted the tying goal for Washington in the third period, the tally that sent the contest into overtime. “If we want to win these games, I think we’ve got to capitalize on the chances we got in the third and inovertime. We got some good looks.
“But it’s 1-1, and we move over to Toronto.”
Now it’s up to the Capitals to find a way to win at least one of these next two games in Toronto, something Washington was unable to do in its second-round series against Pittsburgh last season when those two teams split the first two games in the District.
For long stretches of Saturday’s Game 2, the Leafs seemed to dictate the style and pace of the game, leaving the Caps in the somewhat unfamiliar and certainly unenviable position of chasing the game and the Leafs. In the minutes leading up to Backstrom’s tying goal in the third period, the Capitals played their dominant offensive-zone puck possession game to a tee, wearing the Leafs down and out, and maintaining possession of the puck in the attack zone long enough to get a complete change in personnel while the five Leafs on the ice had all been on for more than a minute.
The Capitals have peppered Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen with a total of 94 shots, including 83 at even strength. But while the Caps have scored three times on just 10 power play shots on goal in the series, they’ve only managed three goals in those 83 even-strength shots.
“We talked a lot about it after the first game,” says Backstrom. “But we’ve got to try to get in front of [Andersen] a little bit more so he can’t see the puck. He’s been good, too, but we’ve got to get in front of him a little bit more.”
For too much of the first two games, the game has been played Toronto’s way rather than Washington’s. With the Leafs’ bruised blueline taking another hit in Game 2, it’s imperative for the Caps to spend more of the game’s 60 minutes imposing their will than playing Toronto’s game.
“I think so,” says Backstrom. “It’s all about speed and managing the puck I think, from our side. Obviously they’re aggressive on the forecheck. Sometimes we’ve had a little trouble breaking the puck out, so we’ve got to do a better job there and make sure we play a little quicker so they don’t get the time to set up a forecheck.”