It was almost like the Washington Capitals rewound Game 3.
This time, instead of slowly falling apart from the second period on, they kept pounding the Toronto Maple Leafs. The chief assailant was Capitals forward Tom Wilson; yes, the same guy, a Toronto native even, who was the overtime hero in Game 1. Also in with lots of jabs was right winger T.J. Oshie, who scored two goals as well. Alexander Ovechkin had the other Washington goal.
Wilson had 2 1/2 minutes from the ages in the first period that eventually allowed the Capitals to take a 5-4 win that tied the first-round NHL playoff series 2-2. The best-of-seven series is headed back to Washington with all those Capitals doubters much quieter.
Well, perhaps not all that quiet, as the Maple Leafs once again refused to follow the script. The Capitals were the far better team for the first two periods but the Leafs made it interesting, to say the least, in the last one.
“We had everyone going. We were putting pucks to the right areas,” Oshie said. “We were shooting a little bit more, getting guys to the net and I think that gave us some more chances.
“You’ve got to tip your hat because [the Leafs] kept coming at the end there. But we were able to hold them off.”
Every time the Caps get a decent lead, the Leafs give them fits. They managed to keep the Caps in sight in the second period, blew a five-on-three power play early in the third and made it close 12 minutes in when Auston Matthews scored his second goal of the playoffs.
When Oshie scored his second goal of the game 59 seconds later, it looked like the Caps had the breathing room they needed. That came a few minutes after the Caps had a goal waved off because of goaltender interference.
But the Leafs weren’t quite finished. Head coach Mike Babcock pulled goaltender Frederik Andersen with three minutes to play in the third period and Tyler Bozak scored with 25.8 seconds to go, a goal that survived a coach’s challenge from the Capitals. But the visitors managed to escape, although they find it difficult to play with a lead against the Leafs.
“I don’t know if difficult is the right word,” Oshie said. “It’s just mentally everything has to get out [of the zone] and even if there’s a bounce here or there, you’ve still got to find a way to keep the puck out of your net, so it’s something we can definitely be better at."
As in Game 3, the Capitals took a 2-0 lead before the game was five minutes old, with Oshie and Ovechkin providing the goals. Zach Hyman scored his first NHL playoff goal 42 seconds after Ovechkin’s goal to keep the Leafs close, but then Wilson stepped in.
Wilson, 23, started what may have been the best 2 1/2 minutes by any NHL player this season by saving a goal against his team. He dove into the Capitals crease and swept the puck away from the goal line after Morgan Rielly managed to slide it under goaltender Braden Holtby.
“Those plays kind of go into slow-mo,” Wilson said. “I could see it on [Holtby’s] pants and knew with the shape of the puck it’s going to fall down. I had time to jump in, make a save there.”
Then Wilson joined centre Lars Eller on a two-man rush and finished it with his second goal of the playoffs at 13:41 to give the Caps a 3-1 lead.
As if that wasn’t enough, Wilson came out on his next shift and knocked Rielly down from behind to create a scrum at the Leafs blue line and took off on another rush. Wilson scored again to make it 4-1 for Washington. This was the same Tom Wilson who scored all of seven goals in the regular season. Then again, he played most of the season on the fourth line, where his job is more to agitate than score.
“He’s Tom Wilson. Everybody knows who Tom Wilson is,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said a few hours before the game. “That’s what he brings.”
Playing the Maple Leafs brings out the best in Wilson, who grew up as a fan of the team. He has seven career goals against his hometown team, with three of them coming in this series. It was also the first two-goal game of Wilson’s NHL career in either the regular season or the playoffs.
“When you’re a kid you always have big dreams,” Wilson said. “I was lucky enough to fulfill them. It’s a huge privilege. There’s a lot of guys that work hard to get to this level and if you get a chance to play an NHL game it’s special. A playoff game? Even better.”
Trotz promoted Wilson to the third line for Game 3 because he knows Wilson has some offensive ability and he needed to get some production out of that line. Going into the game, Eller, Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly had a total of one assist between them in the series, so Connolly was dropped to the fourth line.
Another similarity to Game 3 was a blown five-on-three power play, only this time the Leafs were the culprits. After James van Riemsdyk scored on a second-period power play to keep them close, the Leafs had a two-man advantage for almost two minutes to start the third but could not capitalize.
“I thought we had some pretty good opportunities there,” Matthews said. “You’ve got to credit them with some pretty good structure there, but I think you’ve got a five-on-three, fresh ice, down by two goals, that’s the time you need to score.”Report Typo/Error