The two-time reigning Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals are getting all they can handle from the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs, a rookie-laden team that many thought was at least two years away from being a serious contender in the Eastern Conference. After splitting two decisions following 157 spirited minutes of hockey, the Capitals look to gain the upper hand as the first-round series shifts to Toronto for Game 3 on Monday.
“We’ve been chasing this series a little bit. It’s been a little bit of an uphill battle,” Barry Trotz told the Washington Post on the heels of rookie Kasperi Kapanen capping a two-goal performance in double overtime of Toronto’s 4-3 win on Saturday night. Kapanen, who ended a 15-game drought by scoring three goals in his last four contests, told reporters that the Maple Leafs aren’t going to be intimidated despite featuring nine players that are making their postseason debuts in this series. “I think we proved to everybody that we can play with these guys,” the 20-year-old Finn said. “We’re the underdogs, but the way we’ve been playing, I think we can be better in certain areas, so we’re going to give them a run for their money.” That run continues in the hockey hotbed of Toronto, which has hosted only three NHL playoff games in the last 12 seasons.
ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Captain Alex Ovechkin (team co-leading 33 goals) and Nicklas Backstrom (club-best 63 assists, 86 points) are intent on battling the foe in front of them (Toronto) as opposed to that of history that has constantly labeled Washington as a classic underachiever. “We’re playing good,” Backstrom said after scoring his 21st career playoff goal in Game 2 to tie Dino Ciccarelli for fourth place in franchise history. “I feel like we’re creating a lot of chances. We’re staying positive and we know it’s a new game coming up Monday, so we’ve got to regroup here and look forward.” Ovechkin also tallied on Saturday, marking his 14th career power-play playoff goal to move past Peter Bondra for the most in franchise history.
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS: While the complexion of the series changed following the double-overtime victory, the look of Toronto’s back line is far from pretty as coach Mike Babcock announced that stay-at-home defenseman Roman Polak will miss the rest of the playoffs after sustaining a lower-body injury in a collision with Washington’s Brooks Orpik. Polak’s right leg crumpled awkwardly under his body during the exchange in the second period Saturday, causing the 30-year-old to scream in pain and immediately signal to the bench for assistance. Toronto’s back line has already been compromised with Nikita Zaitsev missing the first two contests of the series due to a suspected concussion, although the rookie may have let the cat out of the bag by posting (and later deleting) the following tweet: “See you soon Toronto.”
1. RW T.J. Oshie has notched an assist in both games of the series and has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 14 playoff games with Washington.
2. Toronto rookie C Auston Matthews (team-leading 40 goals, 69 points) has been held off the scoresheet in both contests of this series as well as five of his last six overall.
3. Capitals veteran RW Justin Williams has scored two goals and set up another in this series to extend his postseason point streak to six games (five goals, three assists).
PREDICTION: Maple Leafs 3, Capitals 2