Moving North –
The Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs split a pair of exciting and entertaining overtime games in Washington to start their first-round playoff series, and the scene now shifts north of the border for Game 3 on Monday night at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
Kasperi Kapanen’s second goal of the game enabled the Leafs to prevail 4-3 in double overtime on Saturday in D.C., squaring the series at a game apiece. Two nights earlier, Washington’s Tom Wilson scored in overtime to lift the Caps to a 3-2 win in extra time. Both Kapanen and Wilson occupy the right side of the fourth line for their respective teams.
“There are great heroes in the playoffs,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “You always love the guy who doesn’t get a lot of recognition during the season; they’re coming up big obviously in this series. Overtime goals have come from guys that you don’t talk a lot about and the lines that don’t get as much recognition but do a lot of the dirty work and do a lot of the hard things for your hockey team. They maybe don’t get a lot of the stats to back it up in terms of the glory stats. I think it’s great that way.”
Two of the Caps who are accustomed to “glory stats” came through for Washington in Game 2. Caps stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both scored for Washington in Game 2’s overtime loss, and it marked the 11
time both players have scored in the same playoff game for the Capitals. Saturday’s loss was the first time the Caps lost a playoff game in which both Backstrom and Ovechkin scored in the same contest since May 9, 2009 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Caps are 7-4 in playoff games when both players score, and all four losses have come in overtime games.
“It’s easy to look at it and say that we were better last game,” says Leafs coach Mike Babcock. “What happens is, two teams have an opportunity to respond, and often the team that didn’t like the way it went for them is the team that digs in the hardest. We talked about it [Sunday] on an off day, it’s very important that we understand that we have to elevate and get to another level – set the ante here tonight – because last game doesn’t matter anymore. It’s a best-of-five [series] now.”
Blueline News –
It is possible that both the Caps and the Maple Leafs will be making changes to their blueline personnel for Monday’s Game 3.
Washington defenseman Karl Alzner did not participate in Monday’s morning skate. According to the Capitals, he is taking a “maintenance day” and his availability for tonight’s Game 3 will be a game time decision.
“I talked to the trainers today,” says Trotz. “They asked if he could have a maintenance day and be off today. He will be a game-time decision for us.”
Alzner has appeared in every single one of Washington’s regular season games since the start of the 2010-11 season, and he has skated in every one of the Capitals’ playoff games beginning with Game 7 of Washington’s first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens in 2010. Alzner was summoned from AHL Hershey to play in place of the injured Tom Poti in that Montreal series.
If Alzner is unable to play on Monday night, Nate Schmidt would draw into the Washington lineup and would skate the left side of a pairing with John Carlson. Alzner has played in 540 consecutive regular season games, the fifth-longest current streak of its kind in the league. If he were to miss Monday’s game, the aforementioned regular season streak would remain intact.
“I don’t think it will change much,” says Carlson, asked whether his own game will change much depending upon whether Alzner or Schmidt is in the lineup for Monday’s game. “Maybe just be aware and try to feed into whomever’s in there’s strengths the best I can. But they’re both great defenders and they can do a lot of great things out there. So it’s not a worry of mine. We’ll see who is in, and we’ll go from there.”
On the Toronto side, the Leafs played the first two games of this series without blueliner Nikita Zaitsev, who was one of two Toronto defensemen to play in all 82 regular season games in 2016-17. Zaitsev, the team’s second-leading ice time blueliner (22:01 per game) during the regular season, suffered an upper body injury in Toronto’s regular season finale against Columbus last weekend.
The right-handed Zaitsev’s return comes at a perfect time for the Leafs, who lost veteran right-handed blueliner Roman Polak in the second period of Saturday’s Game 2. Polak landed awkwardly after absorbing a hit from Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik, and he left the game and did not return, leaving Toronto’s top three rearguards to assume a heavy ice time burden the rest of the way. Polak will be lost to the Leafs for the rest of the season, so getting Zaitsev back to slot alongside Jake Gardiner is important for Toronto.
“It’s a huge boost,” says Toronto coach Mike Babcock. “Obviously losing [Polak], you feel bad for the man and the kind of teammate that he is and all that. It’s nice to get Zaits back; it’s an opportunity for him. He’s been a real good player for us all year, he’s ultra-competitive, moves the puck, good on the penalty kill and good on the power play, so he is an important player for us.”
Leading Men –
During the regular season, the Caps scored first in 58 of 82 games, and they went 46-7-5 in those 58 contests. Toronto has netted the game’s first goal in both games of the series to date, and although the Caps have rallied from behind in both games, they’re more effective at dictating the game when they score first and/or play with a lead.
Thus far in the series, the Caps have led for less than four minutes of the 157-plus minutes of hockey the two teams have played. With the Leafs playing their first home playoff game in four years tonight, they figure to be fairly jacked up for the start of the contest. If ever there was a perfect time for the Caps to score the game’s first goal, it might be on Monday night.
“Obviously the first game we didn’t come out great and they made us pay,” says Carlson. “The second game, we did; we played well to start the game. They just scored the first goal. So we will be putting some onus on that tonight to make sure we’re trying to take the crowd out of it as soon as we can. They’re going to be raucous in here, and the more we can quiet them, the better off we will be.”
Washington is accustomed to playing with a lead, and even though the Leafs have plenty of offensive firepower at their disposal, they’ve not had a great deal of success in winning games in which they don’t score first. During the regular season, the Leafs were 11-20-6 when surrendering the game’s first goal. Their .297 winning pct. in such games ranked 23
in the league, and that’s the lowest of all of this spring’s 16 playoff teams.
“I think we’ve been chasing a little bit the whole series, the first two games,” says Caps left wing Brett Connolly. “It’s maybe a good wake-up call for us. I don’t think we’ve really played our best yet. We’re still tied 1-1 and we haven’t even played our best yet. We’ve played well in this building, there is going to be a lot of energy in the building. We just need to come in here and play a solid game and play the way we know we can play, and everything else will take care of itself.”
Another point of emphasis tonight and going forward will be for the Caps to play their own brand and style of hockey for as much of the game as possible, and to try to limit Toronto’s style.
“The big thing for us is recognizing how they play,” says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen, “what we have to do to get the puck back sooner, and then do good things when we have it. We know how we want to defend and how we want to attack. We’ve got to find ways to do more of that. We talked about a few things this morning, some focal points, and we’ll try to apply them tonight.”
“Obviously we have to make more traffic in front of the goalie,” says Ovechkin. “We didn’t go a lot to the middle of the ice and the front of the net. We know we can be better in the offensive zone. We’ve had pretty good chances, but we just have to use them.”
In The Nets –
Caps goalie Braden Holtby stopped 47 of the 51 shots he faced in Saturday’s double overtime contest, coming out on the short end of a 4-3 score. Holtby matched his career high for saves in a playoff game in Game 2; he also made 47 stops in a triple overtime game against the New York Rangers at Verizon Center on May, 2, 2012.
Over the course of his NHL career, Holtby has posted some excellent qualitative numbers in games immediately following a loss. Holtby owns a 1.72 GAA and a .940 save pct. in games following a loss during his Stanley Cup playoff career. During the 2016-17 regular season, Holtby was 11-4-3 with a shutout, a 2.09 GAA and a .927 save pct. in starts immediately following Washington losses.
For Toronto, Frederik Andersen has been excellent in the first two games of the series, stopping 82 of the 88 shots he has faced in the series to date. With his win in double overtime over the Capitals in Game 2 of this series, Andersen is now 4-4 lifetime in overtime games in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Lifetime in the playoffs, Andersen is now 18-10 with a shutout, a 2.34 GAA and a .918 save pct. in 30 career appearances.
All Lined Up –
Here is how we expect the Capitals and the Maple Leafs to look when they take the ice for Game 3 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series on Monday night in Toronto. Don't forget, Alzner's availability is a game-time decision and could alter what is written below:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 65-Burakovsky
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson
No Capitals Injuires
11-Hyman, 34-Matthews, 29-Nylander
47-Komarov, 43-Kadri, 12-Brown
25-van Riemsdyk, 42-Bozak, 16-Marner
15-Martin, 24-Boyle, 28-Kapanen
19-Lupul (sports hernia surgery)
23-Fehr (upper body)
46-Polak (lower body)