WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin skated up the middle of the ice with the game on his stick. The crowd roared. His teammates rose from the bench.
But instead of hopping over the boards to celebrate a dramatic win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Capitals sat right back down after a pad save by goalie Frederik Andersen. The game continued. By the end of Saturday night’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal game, their opponents would be the ones celebrating.
Rookie Kasperi Kapanen slammed home a pass from teammate Brian Boyle at 11 minutes, 53 seconds of the second overtime to lift Toronto to a 4-3 win over Washington and even this best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal at a game apiece.
Ovechkin’s missed opportunity was only the most prominent of several throughout the third period and both overtimes that would haunt the Caps. After Washington killed off a penalty to goalie Braden Holtby late in the first overtime, Ovechkin, who was serving the infraction, raced out of the box and skated onto a pass from teammate John Carlson. He was all alone.
But hustling rookie Mitch Marner caught Ovechkin from behind and nudged him slightly. Andersen then made a pad save.
“I don’t know what to say. They’re two good teams playing good hockey,” Caps center Nicklas Backstrom said. “If we want to win these games, I think we have to capitalize on the chances we got in the third and early overtime. We got some good looks. But, 1-1. Let’s move over to Toronto.”
That’s the setting for Game 3 at Air Canada Centre, where the Maple Leafs haven’t played a home playoff game since 2013. It will be a raucous atmosphere. Washington won there in a dominant 4-1 performance on April 4. But the crowds have only grown in enthusiasm as Toronto clinched just its second playoff berth since 2004.
“It’s nothing we’re not used to. We’ve played in Philly and Boston, New York,” Holtby said. “Obviously, it’s going to be the same. You’ve just got to block it out and play a style of hockey where you don’t really care if it’s flashy, you care if you’re doing the right things to win.”
But the young Leafs, whose top three scorers are all under 21, have proven they belong in this series and maybe planted a seed of doubt in Washington, which was the overwhelming favorite.
The Caps admitted they could have easily lost Game 1 as well – a 3-2 victory when Tom Wilson scored an overtime goal. This time the breaks went against them when John Carlson broke his stick on the winning play and Boyle found Kapanen. Holtby had no chance. Now, the Maple Leafs do.
“Nobody said it’s going to be an easy series,” Ovechkin said. “They are good team. It’s gonna be maybe long series, maybe short series. You never know. We just have to play our way to get success.”
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