Justin Williams, Questionable officiating give Washington Capitals 3-2 series lead

The Washington Capitals are a game away from averting what appeared to be a looming disaster after Justin Williams scored the winner in the fourth overtime game of the series to give the top seeds a 3-2 series lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Justin Williams, Questionable officiating give Washington Capitals 3-2 series lead
Justin Williams is embraced after scoring the overtime winner. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images
Washington Capitals
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Toronto Maple Leafs

An incorrect penalty call by the officials in the first period of game five ended up playing a key role in the final result, as the Washington Capitals retook the lead in their first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs after a 2-1 overtime victory. Some crucial incorrect or missed calls by Wes McCauley and the officiating crew gave life to the President’s Trophy winners, who took full advantage to hold off a hard-pressing Leafs squad, avenging their quick game three loss in overtime to send the Leafs home needing a win to keep their series alive.

The Capitals overcame an injury scare to their captain in the first period, but the play that gave the crowd at the Verizon Center a near-heart attack also played a crucial role in the final result, as an incorrect penalty call led to Washington’s lone goal in regulation. The Leafs would respond in the second, and the goaltenders stood on their heads in the third to send another game to overtime. After the Leafs had won two of the previous three overtime games, “Mr. Game Seven” came up big for the home team just over a minute in to give Washington a 3-2 series lead.

Capitals turn scare into lead

They key for the Maple Leafs going into game five was the start. After having allowed two goals in the first five minutes of both games three and four, the Buds got off to a better start in game five, not even allowing a shot in first three minutes. In fact, Toronto had the best chance early in the period when Braden Holtby was forced to make a huge save on Leo Komarov on a two on one.

Washington would start to work their way into the period and were denied a great scoring chance when Brian Boyle hooked Tom Wilson away from a wild bounce off the end boards behind the Toronto net. The Capitals would go to the powerplay, but backed up by some great saves from Frederik Andersen, the Leafs killed the penalty. Just after the penalty ended, Andersen robbed Evgeny Kuznetsov, snagging his shot off the goal line with his glove. Kuznetsov celebrated as if he had scored and the lights came on, but review showed that Andersen had kept the puck off the line.

Drama ensued with 2:28 to go in the period when Nazem Kadri sent Alex Ovechkin flying with a low hip check. Ovechkin was down for several minutes and eventually needed to be helped off the ice. Ovechkin would return to start the second period, but Kadri was bizarrely assessed a tripping penalty, which proved to be a costly miss-call by the officials for Toronto, as a rebound off the post during the power play fell to TJ Oshie who buried it into the open net to give Washington a 1-0 lead.

Leafs turn momentum

Much to the relief of the Capitals and their fans, Ovechkin was back on to start the second period. The captain made his presence felt early, levelling Jake Gardiner on his first shift and later finding himself alone in front of the Leaf goal with the puck, only to be robbed by Andersen. But the Leafs were looking to get themselves back into the game and it was the kids who came to the rescue, led by their star. During a strong forecheck, William Nylander picked up the puck in the corner, brought it out and fired on net, with the rebound falling to Auston Matthews who popped it in to level at 1-1.

Zack Hyman and Auston Matthews celebrate Matthews' goal. Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Zack Hyman and Auston Matthews celebrate Matthews' goal. Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Toronto kept the pressure up and very nearly took the lead just after Andre Burakovsky missed the net on a breakaway when Matt Martin beat Holtby but not the crossbar. With the momentum firmly in their corner, the Leafs had a chance to take the lead when they went to the powerplay, but Washington’s penalty kill came up big as Toronto spent most of the power play trying to get the puck into the zone, failing to apply any real pressure. Kadri and Ovechkin would come together behind the play midway through the second period, with the Capitals captain firing a spear into Kadri’s ribs. There was no call on the play.

Despite the missed call on Ovechkin, the Leafs would go to the power play soon after, but again struggled to keep the puck in the zone and failed to create any opportunities. As the period expired, Ovechkin would take a second shot at Kadri and this time it appeared not to go unnoticed as a penalty was swiftly called on Washington. But rather than Ovechkin going to the box, Matt Niskanen was penalized for slashing. A scuffle ensued and both Kadri and Tom Wilson were sent to the changerooms (for misconduct penalties, they would both start the third period in the penalty box). Only 25 seconds of the powerplay passed before the buzzer sounded, sending the Leafs into the third period with a man-advantage.

Goalies preserve stalemate

For the second game in a row, Toronto started the third period on the powerplay, but just like game four, they could not convert. Seconds later, Gardiner high-sticked Oshie to send Washington to the power play. The Leafs would manage a breakout when Ovechkin chose to try to call for a puck-over-glass call rather than chase a clearing attempt and Komarov won the race. The play was broken up when Kevin Shattenkirk crosschecked Komarov up high, drawing a ton of blood that kept the Leafs’ top penalty killer off the ice. Despite the referees blowing the play dead, there was no penalty against the Capitals. Even with Komarov being constantly sent back to the bench by the officials to stop the bleeding, the Leafs managed to kill the penalty.

Frederik Andersen makes a save late in game five. Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Frederik Andersen makes a save late in game five. Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Not long after the power play ended, a high-sticking call sent Wilson to the penalty box. While the Leafs continued to struggle to set up a cycle, James van Riemsdyk would have a chance to walk out front alone with the puck, only to be denied by Holtby. With time ticking down, the Capitals had the best of the opportunities, including several in the final minute, but they could not solve Andersen. For the fourth time in five games, overtime was required to break the tie.

Williams ends it quickly

Just after the Leafs had a great chance to end the game under a minute into the overtime, Justin Williams became the hero as the Capitals won a defensive zone draw, charged into the Leafs zone and the puck came out to Williams streaking in from the bench who put the puck five-hole to give the Capitals a 2-1 win and a 3-2 series lead.

Washington ended up outshooting Toronto 28-25 and won 55 percent of faceoffs. The costly statistics was the Leafs’ 0-4 performance on the powerplay. Despite what appeared to be a serious injury in the first period, Ovechkin ended up playing just under 20 minutes in the game.

The Capitals will look to close out the Maple Leafs and end the dream of a titanic upset on Sunday night, but they will have to do it at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.