The Washington Capitals took a 1-0 lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, thanks to an overtime game-winner from Tom Wilson. Unconventionally achieved, it was hardly an unconventional result for this franchise in Games 1 of the postseason. But we get ahead of ourselves. The cousins have their own unique takes on what happened and what we might look at going forward in this series.
Cheerless… Tom Wilson’s game-winning goal was the first goal of any kind for him in his postseason career in his 29 career playoff game. It was only his second game-winning goal in 342 career regular and postseason games. It was his first career overtime game-winning goal in any NHL season, regular or post. Not bad for a guy Mike Babcock wasn’t concerned about.
Fearless… Now hold on. Wilson getting that goal was a fine way to end an evening that could have gone a lot differently, and there is something to be said about the value of bulletin board material, even when you have to embellish things to make it “bulletin boardable.” They say Michael Jordan did it all the time, to work up a healthy seething over his opponent. But let’s look at what Babcock said in full…
“Nothing against (Wilson), because he works hard and all that, but he’s not as big of concern as a lot of people on their team. He’s a forechecker and he works hard, I think their fourth line has been real good for them. In saying that, they’ve got a lot of players that we’ll concern ourselves with more.”
Babcock said Wilson works hard, he’s a forechecker, the line he plays on is a good one for the Caps. But there are players with whom he has more concern. And what is false about any of that? Yes, the Caps fourth line might be very good, perhaps (as Pierre McGuire alluded last night) the best fourth line in hockey. But no one game plans for Tom Wilson (or Jay Beagle or Daniel Winnik or even a Lars Eller or a Marcus Johansson, for that matter).
Fearless… All in all, Wilson getting that goal might have been an unexpected denouement, but it was certainly consistent with the way the game unfolded after the first ten minutes. The Caps were the better team in the last 55 minutes of the game, and this bodes well going forward.
Cheerless… Now, I might be dumb as a sack of rocks, but even I know that we’ve seen this cartoon before. We don’t even have to go back to when Craig Laughlin played to see what we’re talkin’ about, either. Since 2007-2008, the Caps have won six times in Game 1 of a series on home ice. Four times, they lost the series. Is this team different? Well, they’d better be.
Cheerless… The Caps had 44 shots on goal last night, and Alex Ovechkin had one of them. The Caps seem to have dodged a bullet with that one, with Ovechkin being a non-factor on offense.
Fearless… That was the 12th time in Ovechkin’s postseason career that he recorded one or no shots on goal in a game. The Caps are 4-8 in those games, four of the losses coming in overtime. But here’s the thing. The Caps have now won the last three instances in which Ovechkin was held to one or no shots. Maybe the team is more balanced than it has been in the early days of his playoff career.
Fearless… Braden Holtby shook off a shaky start, one in which the defense in front of him might have been a bit tighter, and had a solid game. Even with the two goals in the first ten minutes, he stopped 35 of 37 shots, the last 26 in succession. That won’t be good news for the Leafs.
Cheerless… Allowing 35 or more shots on goal is something of a crap shoot with the Caps and Holtby in particular. Last night was the 17th time in his postseason career that Holtby faced 35 or more shots in a game. His record is now 8-9 in those games. Six of those losses have come in overtime (not surprising, as shot values go up as time goes by).
Cheerless… I would not have expected veterans – either players or coaches – to be making comments like this after the game…
“Maybe we was a little bit nervous, maybe kind of feel the pressure a little bit.” (Alex Ovechkin)
“We have to be better. Otherwise a team like this is going to take advantage of it.” (Nicklas Backstrom)
“A really good wake-up call for us.” (Barry Trotz)
Nervous? A wake-up call? This isn’t the first barn dance for these guys. Yeah, it’s not playing the Devils on a Tuesday night in January, so some level of nervousness is to be expected. But where on the scale between “jitters” and “paralyzing stage fright” did this sit? And who needs a wake-up call in April? More to the point, what team that can be well thought-of as being a real contender to go deep in a playoff needs a wake-up call? These are not the kind of Game 1 comments that are going to give Caps Nation a warm and cozy feeling.
Fearless… Well, maybe this comment will make you – and Caps Nation – feel a bit better…
“There was no panic. The first 10 minutes we don’t have the structure we want, we don’t have the start we want, and they used that. After that, I think, we just do the same thing over and over, and it worked.”
Seems to me the Captain said it best.
Peerless… In Game 1, the difference between the youthful, if unchanneled exuberance of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the jittery, if not panicky early performance of the Washington Capitals was Justin Williams. He is a pro’s pro and was one of the few Caps who started the game with a suitable level of intensity and, just as important, maintained it throughout. His two goals came from hard parts of the ice…low slot/top of the crease, and kept the Caps in the game when it could have slipped away from them. You have to want it at this time of year, and Williams has been doing that his whole career. This is the template on which the team must build, replicating Williams’ steely resolve about knowing what needs to be done at this time of year and doing it.