Matt Niskanen and the NHL’s top power play unit cashed in yet again as the Washington Capitals outlasted the youthful and overmatched Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Wednesday night.
The Capitals reached 98 points for the season and matched the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most victories through 63 games with 47. The Maple Leafs remained in last place in the league with 52 points.
Niskanen’s winner came after Washington relinquished a 2-0 lead built on goals by Taylor Chorney and Alex Ovechkin. Nikita Soshnikov scored his first NHL goal, and Colin Greening scored his second of the season for the Maple Leafs.
Capitals backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped 27 of the 29 shots he faced. Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier stopped 20 of 23.
Back at Verizon Center three days after he was traded from the Capitals to the Maple Leafs, Brooks Laich was the centre of attention at the morning skate, during warmups and early on. As a video tribute aired to a roaring ovation, Laich applauded the crowd he played in front of for 12 years.
When the teams got down to business, the Capitals wasted little time taking advantage of Bernier. Chorney scored 18:15 in, his first goal since 2011, and Ovechkin added his 41st of the season 28 seconds later.
At that point, it looked as though the Capitals could cruise based solely on talent. But in the second half of back-to-back games, their legs got tired.
Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs were full of the energy of youth. Soshnikov and fellow prospects William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen and Zach Hyman were playing in their second NHL games.
Their speed allowed the Maple Leafs to skate circles around the Capitals at times. Soshnikov’s goal 1:37 into the second period got Toronto on the board, and Greening tied the score 8:16 into the third.
All the Capitals needed was an opening, and that materialized when Soshnikov was penalized for boarding Karl Alzner at 9:20 of the third. Eleven seconds into the power play, Niskanen’s point blast beat Bernier through a screen from T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson for the winner.
NOTES: F Daniel Winnik made his Capitals debut after coming over from the Maple Leafs in the Laich trade. ... Capitals D Nate Schmidt was out with a lower-body injury. ... Connor Carrick, the defenceman Washington sent to Toronto with Laich for Winnik, picked up a secondary assist on Greening’s goal.Report Typo/Error