The Toronto Maple Leafs squeaked into the postseason as the East’s second wildcard team. But Thursday, after taking the first-seeded Capitals to the wall, goaltender Frederik Andersen drew confidence from the Leafs’ 3-2 overtime loss in Game One.
Andersen stopped 41 of 44 shots, robbing the Caps several times in regulation and the extra frame.
“We showed we can play with them and we’ve got to keep playing better throughout the game and improve next game too,” Andersen said.
“We played really good,” Andersen added. “We did a lot of good things. We had a great first period. It was just a one shot difference.”
Toronto out-skated a wobbly Caps team in the first period, snatching a 2-0 lead in the first ten minutes and sixteen seconds of regulation. The Caps would respond however, scoring three unanswered goals – the decisive tally coming off the blade of Toronto native Tom Wilson. Wilson sniped a shot past Andersen’s glove five minutes and fifteen seconds into overtime, giving the league’s best team the win… barely.
“It’s a lot of guys’ first [playoff game],” Mitch Marner said. “We came out how we wanted to and played how we wanted to. Obviously, it wasn’t the result, but we have to look forward to the next game and be ready to play.”
Coming into last night’s series opener, Matt Martin and Brian Boyle were the only two players on the Leafs roster to have significant Stanley Cup playoff experience, playing in 124 playoff games. The rest of the team combined had skated in a total of 168. But that didn’t mean the Leafs weren’t prepared.
“We asked players what [they] saw (during the opening night of the postseason), what’s one thing that jumped out in your mind, to try to get prepared for what they’re going to see,” Head Coach Mike Babcock said after Thursday’s pre-game skate to TSN’s Kristen Shilton. “The game is the same. The energy in the building is different and the energy in each shift is different. So you’ve got to find a way to bring your game within that game.”
Babcock, who is one of the best coaches in the NHL, is the only bench boss in history to gain entry to the Triple Gold Club. Babcock led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2008, as well as leading Team Canada to gold at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in 2004, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“We’re going to be a real hard out,” Babcock said. “We’re coming to play.”
While the Capitals have dismissed their past postseason failures, citing this is a new team, the ghosts are still there. The Capitals haven’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 1998 and their head coach, Barry Trotz, has never been to a final of any sort during his long career in the NHL. The Capitals are also a miserable 25-32 in playoff overtime games.
That Playoff OT record. Woof. (Via @CSNMA) pic.twitter.com/HKbgbTMf86
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) April 14, 2017
“You’d have to ask them how they sleep at night, how they handle those things and those issues,” Connor Carrick said to TSN. “Every player has their demons, and, organizationally, certain things affect groups differently. At the same time, you’re not playing the 2009, 2010 or 2012 Capitals. You’re playing this year’s team.”
“I’ll always have a lineage here, team that drafted me, gave me my first chance. There’s a fondness for that,” Carrick added. “…We’re trying to play spoiler. The coaching staff has definitely covered everything. I’d like to think we have a lot of the answers. At the end of the day, it’s still hockey. The puck is the same size, the net is the same size, so you gotta play.”
And heading into Game Two on Saturday, the Leafs will do just that, with even more confidence.
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