RAKING THE LEAFS
Wilson’s overtime goal lifts Capitals to Game 1 win over Leafs
Washington Capitals wing Tom Wilson celebrates his overtime goal with center Jay Beagle (83) and left wing Daniel Winnik against the Toronto Maple Leafs during Game 1 of their Stanley Cup first-round playoff series on Thursday at the Verizon Center. The Capitals won, 3-2.
Leading up to Thursday’s opener of the Washington Capitals’ series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Justin Williams made his playoff philosophy clear.
“It’s pretty darn simple,” the Capitals forward said Tuesday. “We were kicked in the teeth last year. There’s only so many times you get kicked before you fight back and you overcome.”
It turned out to be Williams, whose playoff success (34 goals, three Stanley Cups) is well documented, doing the fighting. His two goals saved the Capitals in regulation and set the stage for Tom Wilson’s game-winner in overtime that gave Washington the 3-2 victory Thursday.
The Capitals took another blow to the incisors first, though. After only 1:35 in the first, Toronto center Mitch Marner scored to put the Leafs on top. It took considerable poise for Marner to get his stick on the puck, which ricocheted off the post and at him, but between two defenders.
The Leafs had come out faster and with more aggression. With 10 players, including Marner, tasting the playoffs for the first time, Toronto dictated the game’s pace and style just as the Capitals had promised they themselves would do.
The Capitals got angry, but not in a way that helped their composure or ability to hang onto the puck. Three minutes after Marner’s goal, Washington center Lars Eller found himself in the penalty box for cross-checking. The fans in the stands took issue with the call and loudly expressed their disdain for the referee, but their jeers were rooted in loyalty rather than fact. Eller had cross-checked a Leafs player, who had fallen to the ice, rather aggressively.
Eller’s teammates killed off the penalty without allowing a Maple Leafs shot, finding some composure, but continued to turn the puck over and make mental errors on defense. Toronto went up 2-0 after 9:44 when defenseman Jake Gardiner scored unassisted.
The Leafs celebrated the goal immediately, only to see it waived off initially for goalie interference. Toronto coach Mike Babcock challenged the ruling, which was overturned, putting the Capitals in a two-goal hole.
A pair of penalties by the Leafs helped get the Capitals on the board. Center Brian Boyle was sent to the box after 10:22 for interference, and center Zach Hyman followed him 30 seconds later for tripping, giving Washington 1:30 of 5-on-3. At the very end of it, Williams scored, assisted by line-mate T.J. Oshie and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, cutting the deficit in half. Technically, his goal came two seconds after the 5-on-3 ended, so the game reverted to 5-on-5 immediately afterward.
It took until the end of the second period for the Capitals to seize momentum, but goalie Braden Holtby kept them in the game until then. At one point in the second, Toronto was outshooting Washington 12-7, but Holtby stopped every puck.
After 16 minutes in the period his counterpart, Frederik Andersen, could not say the same. Matt Niskanen sent the puck in front of the net and Williams finished the play, tapping the puck underneath Andersen’s pads and tying the game, 2-2.
Just after Williams’ second goal, Toronto’s Matt Martin was sent to the box for cross-checking and the Capitals got another power play to maintain the momentum.
It took until midway through the third period for the Capitals to pull even in shots. They finished regulation with a 38-35 advantage but a number of fantastic glove-saves from Andersen sent the game to overtime.
That’s where Wilson won it, whipping the puck in behind Anderson after 5:15 in the overtime period. Earlier in the week Trotz had said that the Capitals’ experience might not shine through until the pressure was truly on and, having lost their last two overtime playoff games, the pressure had arrived and Wilson was up to the moment.
“I think the experience comes in when your back’s against the wall or you have those big moments,” Trotz had said. “And you don’t really get to go through those experiences until you actually, it actually happens to you.”
The Capitals took yet another blow, but bounced back, and ultimately gave their opponents a shakier foundation to kick from.
The Washington Capitals’Justin Williams scores against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second period Thursday in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series. The Capitals won, 3-2.