Tyler Bozak

Capitals flex muscles, tie series with Leafs despite some drama in Game 4

40 Comments

The picture isn’t perfect for the Washington Capitals after Wednesday’s Game 4, but it sure is prettier than it was coming in.

The Presidents’ Trophy team flexed their muscles during significant stretches, ultimately beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4. With that, the series moves back to the Verizon Center tied 2-2.

Considering the fact that the Capitals entered the first intermission with a 4-1 lead, this contest sure was a lot more dramatic than a stunned Toronto crowd might have wondered. Tom Wilson seemed to enjoy some glory in a homecoming as a road villain. Then again, with how odd this series has been … maybe some had some hope.

MORE: Tom Wilson’s big output in the first 20

Despite some dull moments from the Leafs in the second period, a James van Riemsdyk goal gave Toronto some life, and opening the third with almost two minutes of 5-on-3 time made things even more interesting.

The Capitals maintained a 4-2 lead for some time, then saw what would have likely been a knockout blow nullified by a shaky goalie interference call. The pendulum then swung quite a bit:

  • Auston Matthews made that official decision look potentially pivotal with a 4-3 goal.
  • T.J. Oshie quickly regained the edge with a 5-3 tally that would ultimately end up being the game-winner.
  • Tyler Bozak added some late drama by making it 5-4 with a little less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation.

Toronto couldn’t make that final push, so the Capitals were rewarded for their hard work with a big win.

Check out that goalie interference debate here.

Now, again, there are some concerns for a team that came into the postseason as heavy favorites.

Can they properly protect a lead? On that note, are they guilty of sitting on leads, whether it be by taking the foot off the pedal, being too cute with ice time for players like Alex Ovechkin or something else? Is Kevin Shattenkirk in the doghouse after only receiving about 13 minutes of ice time, the fewest of any Capitals defenseman?

Really, though, should we be worried about Braden Holtby? It was a very difficult night for the usually rock-solid winning machine.

So, yes, there are questions. And, if you told us a week ago that this series would be tied 2-2, many eyebrows would raise.

Yet, ultimately, the Capitals evened things out and merely need to keep chugging along. Maybe the dominance hasn’t been there as consistently as the juggernaut team expected, but they’re where they need to be right now.

And, hey, sometimes ugly is just how you need to win in the playoffs.

Trotz: ‘I don’t think there’s any doubt,’ as Capitals fall behind underdog Leafs

Getty
33 Comments

After back-to-back losses against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Washington Capitals are facing questions pertaining to past playoff failures.

The young and talented Maple Leafs, who didn’t clinch the second wild card spot until the final weekend of the season, have taken a 2-1 series lead on the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, after an overtime victory on Monday.

Not only did the Maple Leafs win, but they erased a two-goal deficit and got stronger as the game continued, particularly in the third period when on two different, lengthy occasions, they held the Capitals without a shot attempt.

Watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs: Game 4 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Sports app)

William Nylander had a plus-18 Corsi For rating at even strength, while Auston Matthews was a plus-12 in that category. Both scored their first career playoff goals. They weren’t the only Toronto players with lofty possession numbers. Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner also dominated in this aspect, with Rielly had a pair of assists.

They now hold the advantage over a team favored to win it all this year, after previous playoff disappointments that followed highly successful regular seasons. The history, at least right now, cannot be ignored.

“Until we change the narrative, that’s going to be the question,” Matt Niskanen told the Washington Post. “It’s up to us to change it. You can’t talk about it. You just have to go and do it.”

This loss hinged on a failed five-on-three power play opportunity for the Capitals and a successful power play from the Maple Leafs, with Tyler Bozak scoring the winner, in overtime.

All three games in this series have gone beyond regulation, but this goes beyond the Maple Leafs simply making life miserable for the Capitals.

“It’s not over yet,” said Alex Ovechkin.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” added coach Barry Trotz. “It’s the first team to four [wins]. We’ve got some room here.

“I think, for the most part, we’re in a better place to handle that. We want to create some new ground, just like the Leafs are trying to do. They’re trying to break through. We’ve got to break through. Our resolve’s being tested.”

Maple Leafs top Capitals in another OT thriller

24 Comments

There is belief in Toronto. And probably a lot of panic in Washington.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were able to get the upper hand in their first-round series against the Washington Capitals on Monday night thanks to a 4-3 come-from-behind win that was capped off with Tyler Bozak‘s overtime goal just 1:37 into the extra period.

Every game in this series has now gone to overtime.

Watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs: Game 4 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Sports app)

There were two key turning points in this game.

The first one came in the second period when the Capitals had a two-goal lead a full two-minute, 5-on-3 advantage. It was a perfect opportunity to put the game away. But the Capitals not only failed to capitalize and add to their lead, they allowed Toronto to score two late second period goals to tie the game.

But the biggest turning point came in the closing seconds of a frantic third period that saw the two teams exchange chances when Lars Eller was assessed a high-sticking penalty with just 16 seconds to play in regulation. That power play carried over to the overtime period and resulted in Bozak’s game-winning goal (which you can see in the video above).

It’s not a surprise the Maple Leafs are giving the Capitals a fight in this series. After all, even though they are a young team it is still one that has an impressive amount of talent and has played at a pretty high level for the past few months. But the fact they have the Presidents’ Trophy winning team on the ropes heading into Game 4 is probably something that not many people expected when the series began.

Credit Leafs’ (slightly) older players for playoff run, too

6 Comments

Much of the focus regarding the Toronto Maple Leafs’ run to a playoff spot revolves around Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Failing that, people fawn over the job Mike Babcock’s done integrating those new pieces.

But … let’s take a moment to give some other key, not-quite-as-young figures some credit, too.

Stream Leafs vs. Capitals on NBC Sports

The easiest way to illustrate this mix of new and near-new is to look at the ages and point totals of the Maple Leafs’ top 10 scorers:

1. Auston Matthews – 19 years old, 69 points
2. James van Riemsdyk – 27, 62 points
3. Nazem Kadri – 26, 61 points
3. William Nylander – 20, 61 points
3. Mitch Marner – 19, 61 points
6. Tyler Bozak – 30, 55 points
7. Jake Gardiner – 26, 43 points
8. Connor Brown – 23, 36 points
8. Nikita Zaitsev 25, 36 points
10. Leo Komarov – 30, 32 points

Again, there’s nothing wrong with highlighting the Buds’ ridiculous bounty of rookie difference-makers.

There’s a feel-good story to long-suffering Leafs such as JVR, Kadri and Bozak enjoying some glory. It doesn’t seem like we need to #FreeJakeGardiner any longer.

Pushing for the playoffs: Andersen backstops Leafs in victory over Predators

Getty

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) James van Riemsdyk and Auston Matthews each scored a power-play goal, and Frederik Andersen made 29 saves to help the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Nashville Predators 3-1 on Thursday night.

Connor Brown added an empty-net goal with 58.4 seconds left as the Maple Leafs started a three-game road trip by sweeping the season series with Nashville. They also won their second straight and fifth in six games to remain in third place in the Atlantic Division.

Filip Forsberg scored his 30th of the season for Nashville. The Predators have lost two straight after a four-game winning streak.

Related: Goalie nods: Andersen back for the Leafs

Toronto is trying to hold off Boston, while the Predators needed a win to leapfrog St. Louis into third place in the Central Division. Nashville came in three points shy of its third straight playoff berth under coach Peter Laviolette.

It was the 1,000th game behind the bench for Laviolette, making him the 28th coach overall and just the second born in the United States to reach that mark in the NHL.

A quiet first period ended when Austin Watson took exception to a clean hit on teammate Mattias Ekholm and roughed Maple Leafs forward Matt Martin. That put the NHL’s second-best power play on the man advantage, and Toronto needed only 13 seconds to convert as van Riemsdyk redirected a shot by Nikita Zaitsev past goalie Pekka Rinne at 18:42 for a 1-0 lead.

The Predators had three power plays in the second – a period in which they have outscored opponents by the biggest margin in the NHL (95-63). Yet they couldn’t beat Andersen, who had a nice stop on a backhander by Kevin Fiala just before the third penalty on the Maple Leafs nearly midway through the period.

The Maple Leafs got their second man advantage when Nashville captain Mike Fisher slashed Tyler Bozak, and Toronto scored again. This time, Matthews added to his Toronto rookie record with his 36th goal of the season off a wrister as he skated up the slot just inside the left circle with 1:17 left in the second.

Andersen preserved the shutout with several nice saves in the third, including one in front from Fisher. The goaltender also killed off one last penalty when Roman Polak went in the box for holding – Andersen needed Morgan Rielly‘s help after the puck went off his arm and trickled near the goal line.