WHO’S IN PO­SI­TION TO WIN?

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - KEVIN MCGRAN SPORTS RE­PORTER

The Cap­i­tals have the edge in first-round se­ries, though the bat­tles might be tighter than you think The Toronto Maple Leafs will be mas­sive un­der­dogs when their Stan­ley Cup play­off se­ries against the Washington Cap­i­tals be­gins Thurs­day night. And James van Riems­dyk is OK with that. Af­ter all, the Cap­i­tals are the ones who took home the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy as the top team in the reg­u­lar sea­son, putting the pres­sure squarely on Alex Ovechkin and Co. “When you fin­ish in the top spot, the ex­pec­ta­tions are a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent,” van Riems­dyk said. “For us, we’ve sur­passed out­side ex­pec­ta­tions, so it’s a dif­fer­ent dy­namic for every team.” Van Riems­dyk says the Leafs can sur­prise a lot of peo­ple. “When you come this far, you’re not go­ing to be sat­is­fied with any­thing other than mov­ing on and try­ing to win games,” he said. “We’re not just happy to be here. We want to try to make our mark.” The Cap­i­tals took of two of three games from the Leafs in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

GOAL­TEND­ING

Cap­i­tals: The tan­dem of Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer won the Jen­nings Tro­phy for the best goal­sagainst av­er­age in the league. Holtby’s num­bers are im­pres­sive enough: 42-13-6, 2.07 GAA, .925 save per­cent­age, but Grubauer was good, too (13-6-2, 2.04, .926) . . . The Leafs man­aged to score on Holtby seven times over two games this sea­son.

Maple Leafs: Fred­erik An­der­sen was just about as good as promised (3316-14, 2.67, .918) but there are is­sues sur­round­ing his health, and if he can’t play, then Cur­tis McEl­hin­ney (6-7-0, 2.87, .914) will have to play well above ex­pec­ta­tions for the Leafs to have a chance.

Edge: Cap­i­tals.

DE­FENCE

Cap­i­tals: They added the dan­ger­ous Kevin Shat­tenkirk at the trade dead­line to an al­ready po­tent blue line that in­cludes Matt Niska­nen, John Carl­son and Karl Alzner. They are deep with play­off ex­pe­ri­ence. Carl­son is nurs­ing a lower-body in­jury, but should be ready to play.

Maple Leafs: The blue line can score but is not nearly as deep and re­mains untested in the play­offs. This will be the first taste of the post-sea­son for Mor­gan Rielly, Nikita Zait­sev (when healthy) and Con­nor Car­rick. As solid a sea­son as Ro­man Po­lak had, he seemed out of place in San Jose’s run to the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal last year. There is lit­tle by way of trust­wor­thy depth if Zait­sev is out long-term.

Edge: Cap­i­tals.

FOR­WARDS

Cap­i­tals: Nick­las Back­strom is wor­thy of some Hart con­sid­er­a­tion, and Ovechkin is al­ways dan­ger­ous. The Caps have a vet­eran pres­ence up front, and play a hard-hit­ting game with the likes of for­mer Leaf Daniel Win­nik. Mar­cus Jo­hans­son is a nifty play­maker and for­mer Conn Smythe win­ner Justin Wil­liams rises to the oc­ca­sion in the play­offs.

Maple Leafs: Nazem Kadri will have his hands full with Washington’s top line, but the Leafs have three lines that can score. Aus­ton Matthews seems to be born for the big stage and van Riems­dyk is a proven play­off per­former (with 13 goals in 46 post­sea­son games, in­clud­ing seven in 11 games in 2011). If the Leafs’ rook­ies get over play­off nerves and play their tena­cious game, they can keep pace.

Edge: Tie.

COACH­ING

Cap­i­tals: Barry Trotz is prob­a­bly as good a coach as there is in the NHL, both tac­ti­cally and mo­ti­va­tion­ally. The 54-year-old from Dauphin, Man., has coached 17 years in the league, start­ing with the ex­pan­sion Nashville Preda­tors. His teams have been in the play­offs in nine of the past 12 sea­sons, but have yet to make it past the sec­ond round. His big­gest win: a 2003 world cham­pi­onship gold medal with Canada.

Maple Leafs: Mike Bab­cock is the high­est-paid coach for a rea­son, and the likely win­ner of his first Jack Adams Tro­phy as coach of the year for bring­ing his team from dead last to the play­offs. His list of ac­com­plish­ments is im­pres­sive: One Stan­ley Cup, two Olympics golds, world cham­pi­onship gold, World Cup of Hockey gold and world ju­nior gold.

Edge: Maple Leafs

SPE­CIAL TEAMS

Cap­i­tals: Ranked fourth-best in power play (23.1 per cent); sev­enth in penalty kill (83.8 per cent); 15th in face­offs (49.8 per cent); fourth in pos­ses­sion (51.81 per cent).

Maple Leafs: Ranked sec­ond-best in power play (23.8 per cent); 10th in penalty kill (82.5 per cent); 14th in face­offs (49.9 per cent); 12th in pos­ses­sion (50.43 per cent).

Edge: Tie PRE­DIC­TION Cap­i­tals in six.

MOLLY RI­LEY/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Washington goalie Braden Holtby, pic­tured, and part­ner Philipp Grubauer had the NHL’s best goals-against av­er­age in the 2016-17 reg­u­lar sea­son.

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