Cap­i­tals head to Toronto in un­ex­pect­edly close se­ries

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

Late Satur­day night, af­ter two over­time pe­ri­ods of reach-for-your-heart-pills ten­sion, Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals coach Barry Trotz warned that his team’s se­ries with the Toronto Maple Leafs may just be get­ting started.

“There may be an­other five to go in this se­ries,” Trotz said.

This se­ries was not ex­pected to need seven games to be de­cided and, ul­ti­mately, it may not. Af­ter split­ting the first two games in Wash­ing­ton, both of which went to over­time, the Cap­i­tals head to Toronto in a sur­pris­ingly tight se­ries. They have lost home ice to the pre­co­cious Maple Leafs who have proven them­selves un­will­ing to play lit­tle brother to the vet­eran Cap­i­tals.

“We’ve been chas­ing this se­ries a lit­tle bit,” Trotz said. “It’s been a lit­tle bit of an uphill bat­tle.”

The 55-win Cap­i­tals have in­deed been chas­ing the 40-win Leafs around the Ver­i­zon Center through Games 1 and 2. Wash­ing­ton won Game 1 on Tom Wil­son’s over­time goal Thurs­day and Toronto pulled even on Kasperi Ka­pa­nen’s game-win­ner in dou­ble over­time Satur­day, but the Cap­i­tals have played from be­hind in both games and have been outscored 5-3 at even strength.

To get home ice back in their fa­vor, the Cap­i­tals will need to win at least one game in Toronto, a hockey-mad city that hasn’t hosted a play­off game in

three years.

“I’m sure [Toronto will be] pretty revved up,” Brooks Or­pik said. “They haven’t had a play­off game in a while. I was watch­ing the game where they played Pitts­burgh there when they clinched and that was prob­a­bly a good lit­tle taste of what it would be like. We got an ex­pe­ri­enced team in here. We know what it’s like to play on the road in the play­offs. You got to fo­cus on what you can do and play the sys­tem that we’re sup­posed to. You can’t make mis­takes there and give them ex­tra chances to gen­er­ate en­ergy with the crowd.”

The se­ries is still young, and the Cap­i­tals are not pan­icked. Wash­ing­ton’s locker room was all-busi­ness Satur­day night, with play­ers ac­knowl­edg­ing that they need to be more ag­gres­sive around the net and to take fewer penal­ties while re­main­ing con­fi­dent. Justin Wil­liams, Mr. Game 7 as he is known, said he wasn’t dis­cour­aged in the slight­est.

“I’m go­ing to go home, have some wa­ter, I’m go­ing to sleep, then I’m go­ing to come back to­mor­row and get on the plane and have a Game 3,” Wil­liams ex­plained postgame.

“This is fun,” he went on. “Sit­ting in here in over­time and know­ing that you could be the one to end it, it’s a great feel­ing. We ex­pect a long se­ries against Toronto. The bat­tle is one that we ask for.”

Goal­tender Braden Holtby felt sim­i­larly.

“It’s one of the beau­ti­ful things about play­offs is how hard it is,” Holtby said. “Now we go to Toronto with the mind­set that we can play a hard, road, gritty style of game.”

Over the course of a long se­ries, the Cap­i­tals might be able to wear the Leafs down, par­tic­u­larly on defense. Toronto de­fense­man Ro­man Po­lak went down with a gruesome knee in­jury af­ter a hit from Brooks Or­pik Satur­day and, af­ter the game, Toronto coach Mike Bab­cock con­firmed that Po­lak will miss the re­main­der of the play­offs, no mat­ter how long they last for his team.

De­fense­man Nikita Zait­sev, who has yet to touch play­off ice af­ter suf­fer­ing an up­per-body in­jury in Toronto’s fi­nal reg­u­lar sea­son game, skated Satur­day and Sun­day and could be ready to play Game 3 on Mon­day. Zait­sev would re­place Po­lak in Toronto’s lineup but even with him de­fen­sive depth would re­main a prob­lem.

“This se­ries is about wear­ing peo­ple down and I think we’re fine that way,” Trotz said Sun­day on a con­fer­ence call. “We need to sort of pound the rock, if you will and see if we can wear peo­ple down. Their D got ex­tended pretty hard last night in a lot of ar­eas. Those 40-plus min­utes, those are hard to re­cover from.”

Two de­fend­ers, Mor­gan Rielly and Jake Gar­diner, played more than 40 min­utes Satur­day night for Toronto. No Cap­i­tal played more than de­fense­man Matt Niska­nen’s 33:56.

The Cap­i­tals may stay the course if their goal is sim­ply to keep grind­ing Toronto un­til they find some give, but Trotz said there’s a chance he will al­ter his lineup for Mon­day’s game.

“Maybe we may tweak some­thing. Yeah, we might do that,” Trotz said Sun­day.

He also might not and, though Toronto has been un­ex­pect­edly feisty through two games, there’s no ob­vi­ous sign that Trotz would need to. The Cap­i­tals were ex­pected to con­trol this se­ries from start to fin­ish and im­pose their will against the Maple Leafs, though, so even the pos­si­bil­ity of Wash­ing­ton switch­ing things up says some­thing.

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