Despite experts and analysts and pundits predicting a short series or even a sweep between the Leafs and Caps, this team knew better. Facing a fast, young team with a special rookie scorer, a hot goaltender, and maybe the sport’s best coach, Washington didn’t underestimate their foe.
So when that foe defeated them on home ice on Saturday night, it wasn’t the humbling of an arrogant giant who expected to trounce their first round opponent. Instead, the Caps’ loss, like most things in this silly sport, was the product of some crummy luck.
Jay Beagle, Daniel Winnik, Matt Niskanen, and John Carlson might feel like schmucks today, but they shouldn’t. Their play wasn’t perfect, but the mistakes they made — if any — rarely cost a team a game.
Here are the goofs and crummy luck that precipitated three of Toronto’s four goals.
— Face-off.nl (@FaceOffNL) April 16, 2017
Moments before the goal, Matt Niskanen chases Tyler Bozak into the corner. They get tied up and Niskanen loses his stick.
It wouldn’t have been a disaster, but Jake Gardiner sets up for another attack. Stickless, Niskanen gets low to the ice and successfully blocked his lane. The puck heads laterally out of the slot. Jay Beagle is ready to chip it out for a clear, but it glances off his stick then off his skate — setting up James van Riemsdyk for a clean wristshot.
Kapanen ties things up on the backhand! pic.twitter.com/PFrJXL3o2e
— Hockey Night Punjabi (@HkyNightPunjabi) April 16, 2017
Matt Martin has little idea what was happening behind him as he chased the puck below the goal line. With John Carlson in pursuit, Martin blindly sends the puck up the slot. There are no Leafs jerseys in that direction, but Daniel Winnik‘s skate provides the bounce to 20-year-old Kasperi Kapanen, camping out in the crease. Kapanen makes some slick moves to set up his shot and tie the game.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 16, 2017
In overtime, John Carlson duels Brian Boyle for the puck in the corner. Boyle out-positions Carlson and wins the battle. Matt Martin picks up possession, but he’s marked by Karl Alzner. Carlson reaches to stick check, but his grip isn’t good. Carlson’s and Alzner’s sticks collide, sending the former’s flying up the ice. Carlson panics, losing Kapanen, who takes the reverse pass for the OTGWG.
None of this is to say these players are without fault. Niskanen’s wrap-up was bad, Beagle’s clear attempt was bad, Carlson lost a board battle, then lost his grip. (Winnik’s seemed like pure bad luck without fault to me.) Those mistakes were minor, but they were magnified by the hockey’s misfortune.
Game Two game was decided by a razor’s edge. The Caps outshot the Leafs, but the Leafs had the edge in quality. Both goaltenders were superb, and both teams largely played according to their playbook.
Without those two bounces off blades and two dropped sticks, this could have and would have been a 3-1 statement game for DC, who would carry a 2-0 lead onto enemy ice on Monday. But that’s just not how hockey works. That’s okay. That’s the game. That’s why we watch.
Headline photo: Rob Carr