The Toronto Maple Leafs had a chance Sunday to lock up third place in the Atlantic Division and a first-round playoff match-up with the Ottawa Senators.
Instead, they lost in regulation to the Columbus Blue Jackets by a score of 3-2, coughing up a two-goal second-period lead, and will now face the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the first round. The Senators will host the Boston Bruins in the first round.
When it comes to the Maple Leafs versus Capitals, it’s really The Kids vs. The Stanley Cup Favorites.
The Maple Leafs have plenty of promise for the future, with a core group of talented young players led by rookie Auston Matthews, who hit the 40-goal plateau in Saturday’s playoff clinching win over Pittsburgh.
But heading into the post-season, there is injury concern in Toronto.
Maple Leafs starting goalie Frederik Andersen was injured and forced from Saturday’s game, but Mike Babcock expects him to be back at practice when the new week begins, and ready for Game 1 when their series gets underway.
They also had a pair of defensemen hurt in Sunday’s game. Roman Polak left in the second period and did return to the bench for the third period. Nikita Zaitsev was hurt at the end of the first period and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.
Toronto had a 1-1-1 record versus the Capitals this season, outscored by a total of 12-10 in the three-game set.
The Maple Leafs will face a Capitals team that finished second in the league in goals for (3.22 GF/GP); first in goals against (2.16 GA/GP); third on the power play (23.3 per cent) and sixth on the penalty kill (84.1 per cent). Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie led Washington in goals with 33, while 11 different players hit double digits in goals scored. They also had 11 players with 30 or more points, while Braden Holtby is back in the Vezina conversation.
The Maple Leafs are a team building for the future — one, two and three years down the road. The Capitals have built themselves into a Stanley Cup favorite aiming to bring a championship to Washington in about two months time.