Wil[son] Over Skill – Caps winger Tom Wilson was part of a slight lineup shift for Washington ahead of Wednesday’s Game 4 in Toronto, and sliding the big winger up to the right side of a line with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky proved to be a prescient ploy on the part of the Washington coaching staff, and an important part of the Caps’ series-tying 5-4 win.
Wilson made his presence felt at both ends of the ice.
With Washington clinging to a 2-1 lead late in the first period, Wilson made a headlong dive through the Capitals’ crease to save a puck that had slipped through Washington netminder Braden Holtby and was wobbling on the goal line, a centimeter or so away from tying the game for the Maple Leafs.
Seconds later in a similar down low location at the opposite end of the rink, Wilson got a stick on an Eller shot, tipping it through the wickets of Leafs goalkeeper Frederik Andersen to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead.
“I saw it on the replay,” says Holtby. “It was good awareness by him and he obviously made a huge play right after. Those moments in playoffs – I probably shouldn’t let that puck get through me – and he made up for my mistake there, goes down and scores a goal.”
On his next shift just over two minutes later, Wilson leveled Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly and then combined with Burakovsky on a two-on-one rush, finishing for his second goal of the period and the first two-goal game of Wilson’s NHL career.
There were many heroes for the Capitals on this night, but Wilson’s work late in the first period enabled Washington to do something neither team had been able to do in the first three games of this series – to take a lead and hold it for the remainder of the game.
“There was a good feeling all day,” says Wilson. “We didn’t want to hit the panic button at all. There are ups and downs. From Game 1, even after we won that one, you’ve got to stay on an even keel.
“Give [the Leafs] credit, they’re playing hard. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy series, no matter what the media or the fans said. They’ve been playing good hockey all year. We’re going to continue to fix our game a little bit, build it and keep rolling forward and watching video and getting better every day, keep our game faces on and get the job done.”
Getting It Done – After Wednesday morning’s skate, the Caps were confident they’d be able to win on Wednesday to send the series back to D.C. all even. The Caps improved their game in the necessary areas, getting more pucks and bodies to the net and being sharper and more efficient at breaking pucks out of their end of the ice.
“I think we did a lot better job of creating traffic and creating movement,” says Holtby. “Offensively, I think we played a game that wasn’t 5-4. I think we earned our bounces and they kind of got theirs. And we fought through that. It shows the character in this group, and we’re going to have to use that going into Game 5.”
“I thought we did a really good job of moving pucks,” says Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt. “I thought we did a really good job of going back and being there for Holts, and I think our forwards helped a lot. When we get a puck up to our forwards on the wall, they make good wall plays it makes us look that much faster and it makes us look that much cleaner coming out of our own end.”
Killing It – During the course of the 2016-17 NHL regular season, the Caps were – along with Florida and the New York Islanders – one of three NHL teams that did not permit a five-on-three power play goal at any point during the campaign.
The Caps were two men down seven times for a grand total of 6:49 during the regular season, and they got out spotless. In Wednesday’s game, they killed off a five-on-three of 1:57 in duration, with Holtby making five of his 30 saves during that stretch, including four from inside of 25 feet away.
“It was nice to feel the puck there a bit,” says Holtby of the five-on-three. “There wasn’t many in the first two periods that were clean. It kind of got me into the game. It was one of those times in the game where you just have to battle through and fight through it, and I thought our guys did a great job.”
Two In The First – According to Elias Sports Bureau, Wilson is the first Caps player to score two goals in the same period of a playoff game since Matt Bradley did so in Game 5 of a first-round playoff series with the New York Rangers at Verizon Center on April 24, 2009.
A Pair To Beat A Full House – Again according to Elias, Caps right wings Wilson and T.J. Oshie each scored twice in Wednesday’s game, marking the first time in seven years the Caps had a pair of players score a pair of goals in the same playoff game.
Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble each netted a pair of goals in Game 4 of the Caps’ first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens in 2010 in a 6-3 Washington win.
Similar Script – For the second time in successive games, the Caps roared out to a 2-0 lead before the five-minute mark of the first period. Oshie scored the game’s first goal at 2:58 of the first and Ovechkin followed, scoring on Washington’s lone power play chance of the night at 4:34.
Two nights earlier in Game 3, the Caps scored on their first two shots on goal of the game, getting goals from Nicklas Backstrom at 2:43 and Ovechkin at 4:49 of the first period. Both times, Toronto came back to score the game’s next goal and make it a 2-1 game.
The difference on Wednesday was that Washington added to its lead afterward, getting the two Wilson goals late in the first to open up a 4-1 lead, the first three-goal lead for either side in the series.
Combo Platter – In Monday’s Game 3, Backstrom scored the game’s first goal with assists from Nate Schmidt and T.J. Oshie. In Wednesday’s Game 4, the same trio of players combined to scored Washington’s first goal.
This time around, it was Oshie scoring his first goal of the playoffs with assists from Backstrom and Schmidt.
Hot Hands – Oshie leads the Caps in playoff scoring with six points (two goals, four assists), and is tied for second in the league in playoff scoring, trailing only Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin (eight points).
Oshie has collected a point in each of Washington’s four playoff games this spring, matching his career-best streak for a single postseason. Dating back to last spring, Oshie has picked up a point in six straight playoff games (four goals, five assists).
Helping Hands – Backstrom had a pair of assists on Wednesday, earning primary helpers on both Oshie goals. With that second helper, Backstrom passed Hockey Hall of Famer Scott Stevens (44 assists) for second place on Washington’s all-time playoff assists ledger.
With 45 career playoff assists, Backstrom is now just two behind Dale Hunter (47) for the all-time franchise lead.
Four Spot – Washington netted four goals in the first period of Wednesday’s game and, according to Elias, it’s the second time in franchise history the Caps have scored four goals in the first frame of a playoff contest.
The previous occurrence was on April 23, 1990 in Game 3 of a second-round series against the New York Rangers, in a 7-1 Washington win.
By The Numbers – Matt Niskanen led the Caps with 25:38 in ice time … John Carlson led Washington with five shots on net while Oshie led the way with seven shot attempts … Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik led the Caps with five hits each … Toronto was charged with 29 giveaways in the game, compared to just nine for Washington. Leafs defensemen Rielly, Matt Hunwick and Jake Gardiner led the way with four giveaways each … Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with five blocked shots … Eller won seven of 11 draws (64 percent).