Wilson helps even series for Capitals
Scores a pair, saves one in Game 4 win after third-line move
TORONTO | For Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz tinkered with the lineups of his bottom-six forwards. He wanted Tom Wilson skating on the third line with Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller, so he swapped Wilson with Brett Connolly, who moved down to the fourth line.
Why? Trotz thought Wilson could bring more production to the third line.
“He’s Tom Wilson. Everybody knows who Tom Wilson is. That’s what he brings,” Trotz said Wednesday after the new lines took the ice for the team’s morning skate.
Everybody here does know Wilson, who grew up in Toronto. No one, not here or in Washington, had ever seen him do what he did in the first period of Wednesday’s Game 4, which the Capitals won, 5-4, at Air Canada Centre.
It all started when Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby settled a shot on his chest midway through the first. Holtby thought he cleared the shot, and only Wilson saw it roll under his pads and through his legs. With a swan dive into the net, Wilson knocked the puck away and saved a certain goal.
Then, going back the other way, Wilson scored off a play from Eller and Dmitry Orlov. In the same shift, he’d saved a goal and scored one — and he wasn’t done yet.
On his next shift, Wilson scored again on a rush with Burakovsky. The first two-goal game of his career came in the playoffs, against his hometown team in a pivotal game that put the Capitals back into the thick of a surprisingly tight first-round series.
Instead of being tied at two in the first period Wednesday, the Capitals, thanks to Wilson’s heroics and early goals from Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, were leading 4-1.
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock had said Monday that if the Capitals had stretched their lead to 4-1, his team wouldn’t have been able to come back from that deficit. On Wednesday, it seemed the Capitals were threatening to have a statement game like the San Jose Sharks, another veteran team backed into a corner, had put together the night before in a 7-0 rout of the Oilers.
The Capitals, though, figured the Leafs would put up a fight.
“We know our aspirations, our aspirations are certainly as big as they get,” Justin Williams said Wednesday morning. “It’s very rare when you see a team waltz their way all the way to the Stanley Cup. It doesn’t happen. And if it
does, it’s very few and far between. You go through adversity on your way there. I’ve been on a couple of championship teams down 0-2, down 0-3, so you rally around it. There’s a lot of times during the playoffs where you need to man up and win a game and the pressure is on. This is one of them, obviously.”
Williams was right. The Capitals got the win they needed to return to D.C. with home ice but, as has been the case in every game this series, the margin of victory was a single goal.
Every time the Capitals started to pull away, the Maple Leafs scored. Just after Ovechkin made it 2-0 with another vintage strike from the left circle, Zach Hyman scored for the Leafs.
After Wilson dominated the first period, the Maple Leafs pulled back in the second. Nicklas Backstrom went to the box for holding the stick and James van Riemsdyk scored from the right circle to make it 4-2 early in the period. Then, Eller and Brooks Orpik both took penalties within the last 10 seconds of the second period, forcing the Capitals to kill 1:54 of a 5-on-3 to start the third.
The Capitals were outshooting the Leafs 24-15 going into the third period but the penalty kill was shaping up to be a pivotal moment.
The Maple Leafs pressured the whole way but Holtby was sharp and the Capitals killed it off cleanly. The kill swung momentum in Washington’s favor for a few minutes but still, the Maple Leafs wouldn’t stay down. Auston Matthews scored for the second-straight game after 12 minutes in the third, making it a one-goal game again.
Oshie countered with his second goal, taking advantage of a poor defensive shift from Matthews, which put the Capitals up by two again until Tyler Bozak scored with 25 seconds left to give the game its final tally.
The Capitals and Maple Leafs will play Game 5 at Verizon Center Friday night. If it’s anything like the first four, it’ll be a close one.
Washington Capitals center Lars Eller celebrates teammate Tom Wilson’s goal in the first period of a 5-4 win on Wednesday.