After blowing a lead and dropping game one in overtime, the Toronto Maple Leafs narrowly avoided a repeat performance on Saturday night, but this time the underdogs came up big, riding the hot hand of goalie Frederik Andersen and claiming a dramatic 4-3 victory in double overtime over the Washington Capitals on a goal by rookie Kasperi Kapanen, who had a pair in the game.
The first 40 minutes of the game were dominated by penalties, as the Leafs had four power play opportunities and the Capitals burned the Buds with a pair of powerplay goals. But the wildcards hung with the President’s Trophy winners and kept battling back and leading 3-2 with seven minutes to go. The Capitals would score to send it to overtime, where Andersen and Capitals goalie Braden Holtby battled it out for more than 30 minutes of extra time before a heads-up pass from Brian Boyle handed the game to Kapanen who leveled the series at 1-1.
Leafs build late momentum
The first 15 minutes of the game was almost entirely played with men in the penalty box. The Capitals had a perfect opportunity to seize momentum early when Jake Gardiner took a very questionable crosschecking penalty 21 seconds into the game. A minute after the Leafs killed the penalty, they had a chance of their own when Justin Williams got two minutes for high sticking, but the boys in blue couldn’t register a shot.
After being a non-presence in game one, Alex Ovechkin had his best chance of the series midway through the first when he turned a Leafs turnover into a rush, but Frederik Andersen denied him. The Capitals captain got a little too caught up in the play and, while he drew a tripping penalty, his over-dramatic fall saw him sent to the box for diving. The Capitals dominated the four-on-four, but still couldn’t solve Andersen. Even strength chances started to pour in after the penalties, as Brett Connolly was stopped on a breakaway during a strong passage of play for the Caps.
Seconds later, the Leafs, who didn’t register a shot in the first half of the period, started to get their chances, with Auston Matthews missing an open net that would have totally flipped the momentum. A penalty to Evgeny Kuznetsov really marked a momentum shift in Toronto’s favour and, despite failing to capitalise on the power play, the Leafs would once again strike first in the series when Gardiner dangled his way through the almost the entire Capitals team, starting with a spin-o-rama along the blue line, before James van Reimsdyk picked up the puck and ripped it top corner for the lone goal of the opening frame. There were six penalties in the first period, two more than in all of game one.
Finally, the slew of penalties resulted in a goal early in the second. Martin Marincin, who made the costly clearing mistake in overtime of game one for the Leafs, took a slashing penalty to give the Capitals another power play and this time the home team made their guests pay, as TJ Oshie hit Ovechkin in his wheelhouse by the face-off dot and the captain ripped it past Andersen for his first of the 2017 playoffs and a 1-1 tie.
The goal seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the Leafs, who immediately turned around and took control of the game, with William Nylander nearly leveling seconds later, only for Braden Holtby to rob him on a rush with his left pad. After several minutes of strong pressure from the Leafs, a high-sticking penalty on Connor Carrick gave the Capitals an opening and, after a strong penalty kill from the Leafs, John Carlson ripped a point shot past Andersen to give the President’s Trophy winners their first in-game lead of the series.
Things went from bad to worse for the Leafs with six minutes to go in the period, as Roman Polak, who had been doing a fairly good job of shutting down Ovechkin and was the Leafs top remaining right-handed defenceman (with Nikita Zaitsev still sidelined*), went knee-on-knee with Brooks Orpik and fell to the ice in obvious pain. Polak had left the Leafs final regular season game with a lower body injury and needed several minutes to return to his feet and be helped off the ice. He did not return.**
But rather than give an even bigger advantage to Washington, the Leafs used the pause in play to regroup and levelled the game 30 seconds after the injury when Matt Martin blindly threw the puck on net from behind and rookie Kasperi Kapanen found it in the scramble and shovelled it five-hole for his first career playoff goal, tying the game at two. The Capitals challenged for offside, but after a lengthy review, the call stood. Washington had a chance to level on the power play again when Nazem Kadri took a penalty for a series of retaliatory crosschecks, but the Leafs would kill it. With 35 seconds to play, Dmitry Orlov took a defensive zone tripping penalty and Morgan Riley made the Capitals pay, fooling Holtby with a wrister from the point through a crowd that gave Toronto a 3-2 lead with 13 seconds to go in the second.
Capitals control pace, tie game
After constant stoppages throughout the first two periods, the teams were finally able to play some uninterrupted hockey in the third period. The two teams exchanged rushes over and over for the first half of the period, with the best chance coming off an Andersen pass to Matthews at the Capitals blue line, who charged in but fanned on the break.
With around ten minutes to play, the Ovechkin line seized control of the play. Wave after wave of attack came from the Capitals and the Leafs were unable to clear the puck. Finally, after over a minute penned up in their own end, Orlov took a point shot that Gardiner failed to knock away. The puck trickled to Nicklas Backstrom, who fired the puck into the open to tie the game with just over seven minutes to play. The Leafs tried to bounce back, buzzing around the Capitals zone for the remaining time, but could not solve Holtby, who stood tall to send the game to overtime.
Andersen wins goalie duel, Kapanen the hero in double OT
The pace of the first overtime period more closely resembled the frantic three-on-three of the regular season rather than the traditional grind of the playoffs. The puck was flying end to end as the teams exchanged pressure and chances, but neither came particularly close to ending the game. At 10:10, the Capitals went to the powerplay on after a tripping penalty against the Leafs, but the best opportunity in the ensuing two minutes came for the Leafs’ Zack Hyman, who got a breakaway near the end of the penalty kill but was hooked to the ice by the Capitals defenceman. There was no call on the play, but it was enough to kill the penalty.
Several minutes later, mainly controlled by the Leafs, Holtby made a pair of big saves on Connor Brown and Kadri, only to take a penalty when he hacked Kadri’s knees out. Despite some good pressure, Toronto could not convert and the Capitals managed to clear the puck just as Ovechkin stepped out of the box. The captain grabbed the puck and streaked in on a breakaway, but Andersen stopped him.
Rather than slowing down as the game continued deep into the second overtime, the pace seemed to pick up as the two teams dueled deeper into the night. Midway through the period, the Leafs seemed to be in trouble as they continuously iced the puck, unable to make a change. Toronto finally managed to get a change and went on offence. With 4 minutes to go, veteran deadline acquisition Boyle, who was nearly the goat after taking the penalty in the first overtime period, grabbed the puck and took it behind the net, drawing Holtby with him, only to drop it back without looking to Kapanen, who was wide open after Carlson lost his stick, who ripped the puck into the open net to send the series back to Toronto even at a game apiece.
The final shot of the game proved to be the difference, as the Leafs outshot Washington 51 to 50, with both goaltenders making 47 saves. The Leafs dominance in the faceoff circle also proved crucial, especially considering their trouble with icing in the overtime periods, as they won 61 percent of faceoffs. Kapanen’s two goals in the game, including the overtime winner, were more goals than he scored in the regular season. His lone regular season goal set the Leafs up to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and clinch their playoff spot on the second last day of the season. Jake Gardiner played more than 40 minutes in the game, while Morgan Rielly finished at 39:56.
The Maple Leafs 4-3 overtime win completed an eastern Canada hat trick in game twos, as both the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators also won the second game of their respective series’ after dropping game one with 4-3 victories in overtime. The Maple Leafs now heads home with home ice advantage, as three of the remaining five games will be played in Toronto, where the Leafs were above .500 during the regular season. Game three goes on Monday.
*Nikita Zaitsev skated on Saturday morning, but was never considered for a return. After the game, Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock confirmed that he would continue to practice but it is unknown whether he will be ready for game three on Monday.
**After the game, Mike Babcock confirmed that Polak will miss the remainder of the season.