The Washington Capitals won 55 games this season, capturing their second straight Presidents’ Trophy. For me, watching the regular season seemed almost meaningless — just something to slog through before we got to the real action. Now the playoffs are here and the comfort of regular season dominance is gone, as the Capitals head to Toronto tied 1-1 in their first round series with the Maple Leafs
“We’ve been chasing this series a little bit,” Washington head coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the Leafs won 4-3 in double overtime.
The Caps, for sure, have been chasing the Leafs, a faster and younger team. Toronto barely made the playoffs, but they’ve put the Capitals on the ropes at times, jamming up passing lanes, forcing turnovers, and creating breakaways by flying past Capitals defenders — somewhat reminiscent what the Pittsburgh Penguins did to the Caps on their way to the Stanley Cup last year.
The Leafs are not a Cup contender, but they are a threat. They were supposed to be years away from knocking off the top teams in the league. But twenty-somethings can be impatient.
“I think we’ve proven to everybody that we can play with these guys,” Leafs fourth liner Kasperi Kapanen said. “I’m really excited to go to Toronto to see how the fans are going to be for our two games. It’s going to be wild.”
The Capitals had a fantastic crowd behind them for Game Two, but the Leafs have hosted just three playoff games in the last 12 years. Their fans will be crowing knowing they have the possibility to knock off the top team in the NHL.
“We’re going to give them a run for their money,” Kapanen said.
It took until the second period of Game Two for the Capitals to play with a lead in the series, having won Game One in overtime.
With each minute the Leafs are up, the gaggle of kids making their NHL debut turn more and more into players who know what it takes to succeed in the most grueling postseason in major professional sports.
“This now sets us up to go home, we’re going to get better and better in the series, obviously, as our confidence grows,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said after the win. “We’ll get used to it.”
The Leafs, undoubtedly, have issues — the most glaring being the depth and inexperience of their blue line. That will only get worse now that Roman Polak is out for the season, the second D-man Toronto is playing without.
But Saturday’s game was a penalty-filled affair. With six minors, the Capitals continued a struggle they’ve had all season. The Leafs, meanwhile, were above water in penalty differential during the regular-season and boasted the second-best power play in the league.
“I don’t know what to say,” Capitals alternate captain Nicklas Backstrom told reporters. “They’re a good team.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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