Maple Leafs fall 5-4 to Caps in Game 4
Auston Matthews figured the goal for the Maple Leafs on Friday night in Washington should be rather simple.
Surely, it wasn’t a mystery for those who watched — or more importantly, participated in — the 5-4 Toronto loss against the Washington Capitals during Game 4 on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
Observers of the first-round series in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs had been starting to wonder what had become of the Capitals team that won the Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season.
Facing the prospect of heading home with a single loss separating them from an early start to their summer vacation, the Capitals played as if they were tired about the questions regarding their desire and past playoff failures.
The Caps were strong early, and though the Leafs nearly came all the way back from a 4-1 deficit, Toronto’s overall lack of urgency and a middling performance by goalie Frederik Andersen conspired to work in the visitors’ favour.
“Start on time,” Matthews said, looking ahead to Game 5. “I think we have to be more prepared. For them, this was a do-or-die game. We have to be prepared for that, come out on time. Make it a lot more harder for them, be able to control the play more, win more 50-50 battles and turn the momentum back.”
The best-of-seven series is tied 2-2, and it now boils down to a best-of-three, with the Caps holding home-ice advantage.
Game 6 goes Sunday at the ACC, with Game 7 in Washington next Tuesday, if it’s necessary.
“I thought it was the first time that maybe we weren’t scared of them and it looked like it because our competition level wasn’t good enough,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “We talked a lot about how the game was going to be but we didn’t look like any of that sunk in. We weren’t prepared. We weren’t very good.”
When Matthews scored 12 minutes into the third period, the Leafs were down a goal and the crowd went bonkers, inspired by the idea of a complete comeback.
It didn’t happen.
Fifty-nine seconds after the Matthews goal, T.J. Oshie scored his second of the game after a Toronto turnover.
That stood as the winner, with no overtime required for the first time in the series. Tyler Bozak scored with 25.8 seconds remaining and Andersen on the bench in favour of an extra attacker.
The Leafs had every reason to believe in themselves after taking a 2-1 series lead, and that’s not going to take a big hit after a second loss. Still, the Caps are heading home with momentum to what will be a raucous Verizon Center and you would think that the latter stages of the series is where their collective experience should rise to the surface.
A dominant first period by the Caps put the club on track to the victory. Washington applied pressure in the Leafs’ end from the opening shift and when the horn sounded to end the first period, had tied a franchise record with four goals in one playoff period.
After Oshie and Alex Ovechkin put the Caps up 2-0, Zach Hyman scored for the Leafs when a Jake Gardiner point shot hit him and got past Braden Holtby.
But a pair of goals by Tom Wilson — who also had managed to stop a Morgan Rielly shot from entering the net after it got through Holtby — sent many in the crowd of 19,838 quietly shuffling into the concourses for another drink during the first intermission.
James van Riemsdyk scored the lone goal of the second period, during a Leafs power-play.
But the Leafs couldn’t score during a two-man advantage for nearly two minutes to start the third period, a span that nicely summed up their mostly lukewarm effort.
“We didn’t come to compete from the beginning, that’s obvious,” Andersen said.
“The positive way to look at it is we came really close back to tie it up, but it’s tough to come back that many goals when you’re not playing in the first period.”
And of his own 22-save performance?
“Not the best. I wish I could help the team out a little bit more, coming up bigger when they had their chances,” Andersen said. “We didn’t play anywhere close to what we are capable of. We know that.”