WASHINGTON — A back-and-forth, high-scoring contest with the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs was a shot of life for the Capitals, who showed they can still win games like in the good ol’ days.
Alex Ovechkin scored 22 seconds into overtime as the Capitals won a 6-5 thriller for their third consecutive victory while snapping the Maple Leafs’ winning streak at five. Nine different players had points for the Capitals, led by four from Evgeny Kuznetsov and three from Justin Williams.
“It was fun,” said Williams, who scored his 10th goal of the season and added two assists. “We felt like we needed a little excitement in here. I think we just kind of willed our way to that win. It was fun and exciting for everybody.”
The coaches weren’t entertained. Neither Washington’s Barry Trotz nor Toronto’s Mike Babcock was pleased with his team’s fundamentals, even if the entertainment factor was off the charts.
Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson scored third-period goals as the Capitals erased a series of deficits against a Maple Leafs team that made youthful mistakes while putting on a show. Rookies Connor Brown, Frederik Gauthier and Mitch Marner scored for Toronto, which also got power-play goals from Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov and two assists from No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews.
Coming off their overtime win in the outdoor Centennial Classic, the Maple Leafs had no offensive letdown and forced the Capitals to match their firepower.
“It’s fun to play against those guys,” said Ovechkin, who tied Jaromir Jagr for first in NHL history with his 19th overtime goal. “It’s always fun to watch how they change. They’re young, they’re fast, obviously have lots of skill up front. It was a great game.”
Not so much the goaltenders, of course. Washington starter Braden Holtby got pulled after three goals on eight shots and was replaced by Philipp Grubauer. Frederik Andersen stopped 23 of the 29 shots he faced as his own personal winning streak came to an end for Toronto.
“It was a crazy game,” said Grubauer, who made 15 saves. “We’re going to have those games once in a while that you want to be perfect, yeah, but you’ve got to accept one of those games is coming once in a while and you’ve got to grind it out and find a way.”
The Leafs’ winning streak ended, but they picked up at least a point in their sixth consecutive road game. That’s little consolation for a young team that has its sights set on the playoffs
“I didn’t think we were very good,” Babcock said. “I thought the power play was good enough, but we weren’t good enough.”
Toronto’s power play scored twice, ending the Capitals’ streak of 29 consecutive penalties killed. But Washington came back from being down 2-1, 4-2 and 5-4 and taught the Maple Leafs a valuable lesson.
“Everybody saw the Centennial game and you look at their last few games, they’ve had a little trouble holding leads,” Trotz said. “We just sort of said, ‘Hey, let’s get the next puck and put some heat on them.'”
When the Capitals applied that heat in the third period, the Maple Leafs wilted. Matthews, who had a spinning behind-the-net pass to set up Komarov’s goal, called it the “same old story.”
“It’s very unacceptable to continue to go down that road,” Matthews said. “We’re continuing to play well in the first, second period, get leads and then kind of explode on us, so it’s definitely something we want to clean up.”
NOTES: It was the start of the Maple Leafs’ two-game fathers trip. … Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game. … The Capitals won for the seventh time in eight games against the Maple Leafs.
Maple Leafs: Play at New Jersey on Friday night.
Capitals: Try to stop Columbus’ 16-game winning streak on Thursday night. The Blue Jackets are one win shy of tying the 1992-93 Penguins for the longest streak in NHL history.
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