If you are on the Toronto side of the equation, the outcome of Saturday’s second game of the Maple Leafs’ first-round series was not only poetic justice, it was a metaphor for playoff hockey.
When Brian Boyle made his seeing-eye backhand pass from behind the net to rookie Kasperi Kapanen for a quick shot to the open side of the Washington Capitals’ net at 11:53 of the second overtime period for a 4-3 Leafs win, it marked a major contribution from the fourth line. Forty-eight hours earlier, the Capitals won the first game of the series with an overtime winner from their fourth line.
That is often how it is in the NHL playoffs. It is the grinders who have to produce the big goals because everyone is so conscious about checking the stars to a standstill. Nevertheless, there were still lots of moments in Saturday’s game when stars like Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom shone, as it was a heart-stopping display of hockey at its best – fire wagon at times with both teams trading chances and bone bending at other times as the Capitals came out hitting much harder than they did in Game 1.
But somehow these precocious Maple Leafs, with nine players making their NHL playoff debuts, kept bending and then snapping back. Now they have the series in their own arena for the next two games with it tied 1-1.
Once again, Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen was superb. But this time there was no whiff with his glove, just a smooth, 47-save performance.
“He was outstanding in Game 1 and obviously he was no slouch tonight,” Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “He’s been the backbone of this team all year. He’s been outstanding night in and night out. His calmness is felt by all his teammates. When we’re out there playing and we know he’s behind us it gives us that much more confidence.”
While Boyle, who has been excellent in the faceoff circle and in the tough areas around the net in both games, is the quintessential grinder, Kapanen is not. He’s in the mould of the Leafs’ other star rookies, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, a speedy, shifty sort with silky hands. A late-season call-up and addition to the fourth line, he scored his first NHL playoff goal late in the second period to tie the score 2-2 and made his second part of Leafs’ history.
“All the credit has to go to [left winger Matt Martin] and [Boyle] for working hard in the corner,” Kapanen said of his winning goal. “I think one of their D-men lost his stick. I was yelling for [the puck]. Boyler made an amazing pass. I got to put it in an empty net.”
The trouble with playoff hockey is that for every good thing that happens, such as the inexperienced Leafs’ resiliency and heart in giving a deep, experienced and talented Capitals team everything it can handle, something bad is bound to happen.
For the Leafs, the really, really bad thing happened at 13:55 of the second period when defenceman Roman Polak took a hard, clean hit from Washington defenceman Brooks Orpik. Polak was spun around and his right skate was caught in a rut on the ice. He corkscrewed to the ice on his right leg and immediately clutched his right ankle and lay on the ice writing in pain. After being helped to the dressing room, Polak never returned to the game.
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said after the game that Polak is finished for the season. With Nikita Zaitsev already out with undisclosed injury and the Leafs trying to get by with the little-used Martin Marincin, who played much better Saturday than he did in Thursday’s opener, this was the worst sort of news.
Zaitsev resumed skating on Saturday and there is a chance he can play in Game 3 on Monday night. Babcock said he had no idea if Zaitsev will be ready and if he isn’t, Alexey Marchenko will dress. But most of the ice time will go to Rielly and Jake Gardiner. They both played more than 40 minutes by the end of Saturday’s marathon, with Matt Hunwick clocking in at 35:19 and Marincin at 30:41. Connor Carrick was only used sparingly after the injury, finishing with just under 19 minutes of ice time.
The game was the same as a lot of games the Leafs have played this year, wildly entertaining, often for the mistakes as much as the offensive creativity. For example, after the Leafs took a 1-0 lead on James van Riemsdyk’s goal late in the first period, Zach Hyman forgot to stick with Ovechkin on a second-period power play, allowing the Caps superstar to come down from the point and rip a shot past Andersen.
Then the same thing happened on another Washington power play, with defenceman John Carlson left unwatched at the other point, and he gave the Caps a 2-1 lead. But the Leafs bounced back with Kapanen’s first goal and then Rielly put them ahead with a power-play goal. The Caps’ stars popped up again in the third period when Backstrom capped an epic shift with Ovechkin, keeping the Leafs on the run in their own end, by forcing overtime with his first goal of the playoffs.
“Obviously, it’s a big win for our team,” Babcock said. “You go down two and then you’ve got to win four out of five. This now sets us up to go home, we’re going to get better and better in the series, obviously, as our confidence grows. We’ll get used to it.”Report Typo/Error