The President’s trophy winning Washington Capitals finally put away the tenacious Toronto Maple Leafs with a game six victory, once again in overtime, to wrap up their first-round series. Despite being heavy favourites in the series, the league’s top seeds were given everything they could handle by the young Leafs team from the start of game one right to the end of game six. But in the end, Toronto could not hold off the Washington onslaught, as the Capitals took the series four games to two.
The game was a stalemate for nearly 50 minutes, as the two teams exchanged chance after chance but could not solve the goaltenders, who were both playing out of their minds. Bizarre bounces ended up accounting for the only goals of the game, first for the Leafs and then five minutes later for the Capitals, before the Capitals won in a record-breaking overtime period.
Teams skate to stalemate
While Washington took a three-games-to-two lead into game six, the closeness of the series was summed up perfectly by the shot totals, with each team taking 175 shots on net entering game six. Both teams came out looking to execute the same game plans from the earlier games. Washington put pressure on the Leafs with their forechecking in the early minutes, but were unable to get any pressure on Frederik Andersen. The Leafs, on the other hand, stuck to their tactic of throwing everything at Braden Holtby, but despite several close calls, including one that trickled through Holtby but just wide, they failed to get any sticks on net in front and no bounces went their way.
The Leafs were doing a better job of controlling the pace, both through quick passing and physically pummeling the Capitals at every opportunity, and were rewarded with a powerplay midway through the period. After struggling to get their powerplay going the past few games, the Leafs set up a great cycle right off the faceoff, only for Tyler Bozak to take a high sticking penalty to surrender the man advantage. Toronto had the best chances during the opening period, but Alex Ovechkin had a close call in the final minute when Andersen dropped a save and lost it, barely managing to fall and knock it away before any Capitals found the rebound. For the first time in the series, there was no scoring in the first period.
Goalies stand tall
If it was at all possible, the pace of the game increased in the second period as both teams charged end to end, heaping the pressure on the opposing defences, but still no one could solve Holtby or Andersen. The closest call of the first half of the period came when Jake Gardiner’s point shot beat Holtby, but not the crossbar around eight minutes in.
Washington’s golden opportunity came midway through the period, when the broke in on a two-on-one, a diving Morgan Rielly managed to break in up only for the loose puck to fall to game six hero Justin Williams alone in front with Andersen down on his stomach. Williams made his move and tried to tuck the puck in at the side of the net, only for the down-and-out Andersen to make a huge pad save. But Toronto was not out of the woods yet, as they would ice the puck and off the ensuing faceoff, William Nylander took a holding penalty. But the Leafs would come up with their best penalty kill of the series, spending most of the two minutes in the offensive zone, killing the penalty.
Both teams had chances in the dying minutes of the period, but the Leafs continued to struggle to get sticks on the puck in front of the net, while the Caps had no answer for wall that was Frederik Andersen.
Crazy bounces open scoring
The pace and tension continued to increase, but the ice was slowly tilting in favour of the Capitals as the President’s trophy winners had the majority of the chances early in the third period. There was only one problem for Washington: Andersen. No matter how much the Capitals through at the Leafs netminder, nothing was even coming close to getting through.
Finally, the most freakish of bounces broke the deadlock and the Leafs finally got the puck-luck they desperately needed. Toronto brought the puck out of their own end together and Rielly fired what looked to be a routine dump-in, only for it to catch an edge on the glass and bounce straight out in front of Holtby. Auston Matthews won the race and found himself all alone in front of Holtby and the Calder trophy nominee made no mistake, firing it top corner to give Toronto a 1-0 lead with 12:15 to go.
While the goal woke up the crowd, it also invigorated the Capitals, who increased their assault on the Leafs net, but still Andersen was making it look easy, making big save after big save with none bigger than a massive glove save on TJ Oshie who managed to break in alone. But with 7:09 to go, the wall finally crasked. A simple jam on net by Marcus Johansson took several odd bounces, including off the post and Andersen’s arm, before trickling through and across the line by an inch to level the game at 1-1. The final seven minutes were perhaps the most frantic of a frantic game. Both teams continued to come close to ending it, but Andersen and Holtby continued to keep the game tied, sending it to overtime for the fifth time in six games, which tied the NHL record for most overtime games in a single playoff series.
Johansson ends series
The overtime period of game six was the 18th of the 2017 first round, setting an NHL record for most overtime games in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Very little appeared to have changed during the intermission as the level remained extremely high early in the overtime period. Still, it was the Capitals who seemed to be the team in control. The Leafs had a few chances, but could not bury them and, just over six minutes in, Andersen stopped Johansson’s initial redirect, but the Capitals forward jammed in his rebound to send the President’s trophy winners into the second round with a 4-2 series win, including three overtime wins.
In the end, the Leafs outshot the Capitals 38-36, and 213-211 over in the series, and won an astounding 64 percent of faceoffs in game six. The series was only the third ever to feature five overtime games. Washington moves on to a rematch with the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. Pittsburgh ousted the President’s trophy-winning Caps in six games last year on route to their second Stanley Cup crown in seven years. Pittsburgh has won their last two playoff meetings with the Capitals, going on to win the cup both times.