20 minutes was all the Washington Capitals needed to level their first-round series at 2-2 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, as the President’s Trophy winners came out flying and held off a furious rally from the Leafs late in the third for a 5-4 victory.
The Capitals got off to a perfect start, once again scoring two goals in the opening five minutes for an early lead, walking out of the first period with a 4-1 lead. That would be almost enough, as it would take the Leafs the better part of the game to claw back. Toronto threw everything at the Capitals in the third period, but a miscue at the blue line after closing to within a goal proved costly, as Toronto would fall one goal short of the comeback.
Dream start for Capitals.
Game four would follow a near-identical script to game three in the first period. Just like the previous game, the Capitals struck early and often, opening the scoring just under three minutes in when a big bounce off the boards came to Nicklas Backstrom, who shovelled the puck over to TJ Oshie who buried it into the open net. The Leafs would take a penalty a minute later and Alex Ovechkin burned them, ripping his third goal of the series from his spot inside the faceoff circle for a 2-0 lead under five minutes in.
Just like they did in game three, the Leafs responded immediately. It took all of 30 seconds for Jake Gardiner to take a point shot that went off of Zack Hyman’s skate and past Braden Holtby to close to 2-1. Minutes later, the Leafs nearly tied it, as Morgan Rielly’s shot got through Holtby and was rolling into the empty net, only for game one hero Tom Wilson to dive into the crease and shovel it out from on top of the goal line. The Capitals would pick it up and Lars Eller would carry it in and around the Leafs zone, eventually throwing the puck on net which deflected off of Wilson and in to stretch the lead to 3-1.
Things would go from bad to worse for the Leafs minutes later as a hit from behind at the Capitals blue line sent Rielly face first into the ice. The Leafs top defenceman was slow to get up and Washington took advantage, with Wilson converting his second goal of the game at the end of the ensuing two-on-one rush to give the Capitals a 4-1 lead in the first period.
Maple Leafs get one back
After failing to register a shot in the first five minutes of the period, a holding-the-stick penalty on Backstrom gave the Leafs life and once again, a bounce in front of Holtby would go Toronto’s way. This time, it was James van Riemsdyk whose point shot went off the skate of Dmitry Orlov and in to reduce the deficit to just two goals. The pace of the game picked up after the goal, with one whistle-less stretch lasting over six minutes, but neither team was able to strike again in the second.
The period ended with a little bit of drama, as Eller took a penalty for playing a faceoff with his hand with six seconds remaining. On the ensuing faceoff, Brooks Orpik shattered Mitch Marner’s stick with a slash with three seconds to go, sending the Leafs into the third period with a five-on-three power play.
Comeback falls short for Leafs
The Leafs were all over the Capitals during their five-on-three to start the third, but despite putting five shots on net, they could not get one over the line and Washington would survive. The Leafs would continue to control the play for several minutes after the power play, but Washington began to turn the tide back in their favour. For a brief moment, it appeared that the Capitals had regained their three-goal lead when Nate Schmidt’s point shot beat Frederik Andersen from the blue line, but the goal was immediately called off for goaltender interference by Backstrom. Washington would challenge, but the call was upheld.
The point shot once again provided the spark for Toronto as Matt Hunwick’s blast took a bounce and found Auston Matthews all alone at the side of the net with Holtby down on his stomach. The Leafs’ star easily popped the puck into the open net to close to within a goal. It would not take long for Toronto to give the lead back, as four Leafs bobbled the puck at their own blue line, failing to clear and the puck ended up on the stick of Oshie, who broke in alone and ripped it five-hole to re-open the two-goal lead.
The Maple Leafs pulled their goalie with over three minutes to go, the first time in the series that either team pulled their goalie, but while another thrown puck on net resulted in Tyler Bozak closing the deficit to a goal once again (the goal was reviewed for goaltender interference, but there was none), the Capitals managed to burn the clock down to 26.5 seconds by the time they moved to within one. The Leafs couldn’t mount an offensive in the dying seconds and Washington hung on to take the series home tied at two.
After a disastrous first period, the Leafs outshot Washington 34 to 27 by the end of 60 minutes. The real key to the game was Toronto’s 29 giveaways, none bigger than the one that led to Oshie’s game-winning goal.
Washington heads home with the series tied at two games apiece, a series which is now down to a best of three. Game five will take place on Friday night.