Sunday, April 16, 2017

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 2: Toronto Maple Leafs 4 - Washington Capitals 3 (2OT)

The Washington Capitals let one get away on Saturday night, losing a 4-3 double-overtime decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup. The win evens the series at a game apiece as the teams head north to Toronto to resume their quest on Monday night. 

The Caps opened the game with a stifling defense that held the Maple Leafs without a shot on goal for the first 10:58 of the game.  Despite the early smothering by the Caps’ defense, though, Toronto opened the scoring late in the first period.  Tyler Bozak fended off Matt Niskanen long enough to feed Jake Gardiner the puck at the left point.  Gardiner worked the puck to the middle, then curled through the right wing faceoff circle.  As he tried to maneuver between the hash marks, the puck slid off his stick, off Jay Beagle’s skate, and onto the blade of James van Riemsdyk.  He curled the puck to his forehand and ripped a shot off the post to goalie Braden Holtby’s left and in to make it 1-0 at the 17:34 mark.

After killing off a penalty that carried over from the first frame, the Caps scored on a power play of their own less than four minutes into the second period.  Out of a tangle below the Toronto goal line to the left of goalie Frederik Andersen, the puck made its way to T.J. Oshie, who fired it out to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle.  With all four Maple Leafs tilting to the right side of the ice, Ovechkin picked his spot and found it in the back of the Toronto net to make it 1-1, 3:47 into the period.

Washington took the lead mid-way through the period on another power play.  With the second power play unit on the ice, Andre Burakovsky skated the puck into the zone, worked around a Toronto defender, and tried to feed Evgeny Kuznetsov cutting to the net.  The puck sailed into the right wing corner and rebounded to Justin Williams.  From the far edge of the right wing circle, Williams backhanded the puck to John Carlson at the right point.  With room to step up, Carlson did just that and blasted a slap shot that beat Andersen on the near side to make it 2-1, Caps, at the 11:06 mark.

Three minutes later, the Leafs tied it back up when Toronto worked the puck below the Caps’ goal line, allowing Kasperi Kapanen to set up in front.  Matt Martin’s pass found him at the top of the crease, and with a couple of whacks at the puck, Kapanen slid it through Holtby 14:25 into the period to make it 2-2.

Then with Dmitry Orlov off on a tripping call, the Leafs took the lead in the dying seconds of the period.  Working the puck around the perimeter on the right side, Mitch Marner got it to Morgan Rielly at the right point.  Rielly carried the puck to the middle looking for a better shooting angle. He found one, threading a shot through a maze of bodies in front of Holtby to make it 3-2 with just 13.1 seconds left in the period.

Toronto nursed the one-goal lead for the first 11 minutes of the third period, but in the 12th minute the Caps applied steady, unremitting pressure in the Leafs’ zone and were rewarded for it after spending more than a minute in their end.  Dmitry Orlov flagged down an attempted clear by Gardiner off the glass at the left point.  He walked the puck back across the middle, and then he sent a shot to the Maple Leaf net that was muffled in front.  The puck caromed out to the right of Andersen, where Nicklas Backstrom pounced on it, firing the biscuit into the open side of the net behind Andersen to tie the game, 3-3, 12:39 into the period.

Neither team could find the tie-breaker in what remained of regulation time, and the teams went to overtime for the second time in two games.  But things did not end there.  After 20 minutes of scoreless extra time play, the teams went to a second overtime.  And there, in the game’s 92nd minute, the Leafs ended it.  John Carlson lost his stick trying to separate a Leaf from the puck, and the loose biscuit made it to Brian Boyle.  As he skated behind the Caps’ net, he fed it out the back side to Kasperi Kapanen, who had nothing but an open net at which to shoot, and he did not miss, giving the Maple Leafs the 4-3 win 11:53 into the second overtime and sending the series to Toronto tied at a game apiece.

Other stuff…

-- The loss broke a three-game winning streak in overtime on home ice dating back to May 2013, when the Caps beat the New York Rangers, 2-1, on a Mike Ribeiro goal.

-- The 51 shots on goal for the Caps was the fourth-highest number they ever recorded on home ice in a postseason game.  All four were losses.  The others were a 61-shot effort in a 2-1 three-overtime series clinching loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 20, 2003; a 63-shot game in a four-overtime Game 4 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 24, 1996, and the mother of all frustration, a 75-shot performance in a four-overtime Game 7 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders on April 18, 1987.

-- Offensive zone faceoffs were a problem all night for the Caps.  They won just 18 of 43 draws in the Toronto end (41.9 percent).  They were even worse in the defensive end, percentage-wise (33.3 percent, winning 10 of 30 draws).  The plus-13 differential between offensive and defensive zone draws counts as an opportunity wasted, especially given that the Leafs were playing short a defenseman after the injury to Roman Polak in the second period, from which he did not return.

-- Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner each skated more than 40 minutes for Toronto, 40:12 and 40:42, respectively.

-- In a game that lasted almost 92 minutes, Alex Ovechkin skated just 24:35, sixth among forwards, both in total and in even strength ice time.

-- Only’s…Karl Alzner and Jay Beagle were the only Capitals without a shot on goal.  Beagle did not record a shot attempt (he was also an uncharacteristic 9-for-25/36.0 percent on draws).  Brett Connolly was the only Cap not credited with a hit. 

-- Matt Niskanen had ten credited hits to lead the team.  He had seven shot attempts, tying him with Dmitry Orlov and Kevin Shattenkirk for second-most on the club among defensemen.  John Carlson had nine shots on goal to lead the defensemen.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal was his 42nd career postseason goal, tying him for fifth place among all players since 2007-2008, when he appeared in his first postseason.

-- It took him a second overtime to do it, but this was the first time Braden Holtby surrendered four goals on home ice in a playoff game since he allowed four goals on 28 shots in a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals.

-- T.J. Oshie had a bit of a rough game.  He only managed to put one of his eight shot attempts on goal and lost six of seven draws.  He did have an assist, though, and five credited hits to go along with it.

In the end…

The Caps have let a lot of opportunities walk up to the door and knock over the years, without ever getting up to answer the door.  As opportunities go, this was not the worst of them that they let get away, but it was significant.  The best home team in the league, playing a young team down a veteran defenseman mid-way through regulation, let the Leafs off the hook.  There were a lot of near misses and almosts, but near misses and almosts litter the Caps’ playoff landscape like confetti after a ticker tape parade.  We’ll find out soon enough if this team really is different from their predecessors, or if they are just a different model of the same make of car.  In that sense, going on the road is not really a bad thing, home-ice advantage in the NHL being probably the least reliable home advantage of the major team sports.  But the Caps can’t let the Maple Leafs skate with the sort of confidence a game like this can provide.  They have to take it from the Leafs and stand on their throats, characteristics that would be different from a lot of their predecessors at this time of year.

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