Going into their first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Washington Capitals were considered to be the heavy favourites. But the President’s Trophy winners were given all they could handle by the Eastern Conference’s second wildcard team in game one of their first-round series, needing more than sixty minutes to put the ragtag group of rookies from Toronto away with a 3-2 overtime victory.
Assumed to be pushovers, the Maple Leafs got off to the quicker start, scoring twice in the first ten minutes of the game to take an early lead. The Capitals would slowly turn the tables, tying the game late in the second period and controlling the pace of play right up until Tom Wilson’s overtime winner 5:15 into the extra period.
Maple Leafs come out flying
Everything seemed to be going the Capitals’ way before puck drop, as John Carlson was back in the lineup for the hosts while the Leafs, who did have Roman Polak back in the lineup, found themselves without the second half of their top defensive pairing with Nikita Zaitsev remaining out with an injury sustained in the final game of the season.
It did not take long for one team to grab the early lead, but after charging the zone and getting the first shot of the series 12 seconds in, the President’s Trophy winners found themselves down a goal 1:35 into the series. After a defensive zone faceoff win, the Leafs charged into the Capitals zone on a three-on-two. James van Reimsdyk couldn’t bury his first opportunity, but a centring pass from the side of the net got by Braden Holtby, went off the post and right onto the stick of Mitch Marner who buried the puck for an early 1-0 lead for the underdogs.
After a back-and-forth eight minutes which saw the teams exchanging chances, including a strong penalty kill by the Capitals, the Leafs appeared to take a 2-0 lead when Jake Gardiner’s point shot snuck through a crowd past Holtby. The goal was instantly waved off for goalie interference, as Nazem Kadri had been planted just inside the crease throughout the play, but the Leafs challenged the play and the review showed that Kadri made no contact with Holtby and the call was overturned to give Toronto a stunning early advantage.
Over-enthusiasm came back to bite the Leafs not long after doubling their lead, as a pair of quick penalties gave the Capitals a 5-on-3 for a minute and a half and Washington took advantage, with TJ Oshie feeding Justin Williams who popped the puck into an open net just after the first penalty expired to cut the deficit in half. The goal would serve as a wake-up call for the Leafs, who refound their energy and discipline, carrying their 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Bounce goes to the Capitals
The first 16 minutes of the second period were uneventful, as the two teams exchanged weak opportunities as the puck swung end to end. With four minutes to go in the frame, the Caps’ Matt Niskanen fired a shot on net which Frederik Andersen saved, but lost track of the puck and dropped it right in front of himself. Unaware that all he had to do was fall down to smother the puck, Andersen continued to search for it but was beaten by Williams, who hacked the puck in to tie the game at two with his second of the game.
A questionable penalty call against the Leafs gave Washington a power play and a chance to take the lead soon after, but Andersen saved the only good chance the Caps had on a Kevin Shattenkirk shot from the slot and the Leafs would hang on to send the match to the third period tied at two.
Andersen maintains stalemate
After the Leafs had generally been the better team for the first 40 minutes, game one finally began to follow the anticipated script in the third as the Capitals were buzzing throughout the period. The only problem for Washington was number 31 in white. After letting in a soft goal in the second period, Freddy Andersen was rock solid for the Leafs throughout the third period, making big save after big save, many of them with his dramatic glove hand. With seven minutes to go, Alex Ovechkin, who had been a non-presence throughout the game due to the hard-checking of Polak, had his best chance of the game, charging the net on a two-on-one but deflecting the incoming pass wide.
Minutes later, Marcus Johansson had a similar shot and put the puck on net, only for Andersen to snag it with his glove. The Leafs would respond in the dying minutes with their best chances of the period. With 2:40 to play, Leo Komarov found himself alone in front, but struggled to control the puck and spun it wide. With ten seconds to play, Auston Matthews, who also had very little to do throughout the game, fanned on his best chance of the game alone in front of the Capitals goal. Ovechkin would take the puck and make a beeline for the Leafs net, racing to the clock and getting a shot off as the buzzer went off to end regulation, but Andersen sent the game to overtime with another glove save.
Caps wear Leafs down in OT
The Capitals would have the first chance in overtime just over two minutes in, when Andersen couldn’t handle a shot that landed between his legs just like the game-tying goal back in the second, but this time Brian Boyle was there to dig it out and save a game-winning-goal. Minutes later, an innocent enough looking play would end the game. The Leafs failed to clear the puck and Tom Wilson sent what appeared to be a simple shot on net, but it fooled what had been Andersen’s primary weapon all night, his glove, going straight into the top corner to give the Capitals a game one victory.
The Leafs outshot the Capitals through the first two periods, but the top seeds wore down their young opponents in the final frame, eventually outshooting the Leafs 44-37 overall. However, the Leafs won 54 percent of the faceoffs. It was a bad game for the stars, as both Ovechkin and Matthews were limited to one shot on goal and were -1 through 65:15 minutes.
The Capitals lead the series one game to zero. Game two goes on Saturday night in D.C.