Maple Leafs lose heartbreaker in OT to Williams, Capitals
WASHINGTON — Time to dig in, as Mike Babcock would say.
The Maple Leafs don’t have a choice.
The Leafs have set a solid foundation for the future of the organization in 2016-17, but they have no desire to go into the night and be satisfied that they gave the Washington Capitals a stiff challenge in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Winning is all that matters, and the Leafs have to knock off the Presidents’ Trophy champions in back-to-back games in order to advance to the second round.
The Capitals put themselves in control of the best-of-seven series on Friday night at the Verizon Center, winning 2-1 when Justin Williams beat Frederik Andersen between the legs at 1:04 of overtime.
Following a draw in the Caps zone, the Leafs never touched the puck — a won faceoff, a dump-in retrieved, two passes and the winning goal was in.
Washington leads the series 3-2 and can close it out on Sunday night in Game 6 at the Air Canada Centre.
“You can’t have any more fun than this,” Babcock said. “We believe we still have a chance to win. That’s what we’re going to do.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to go home and win a game now because we want to be right here in overtime in Game 7.”
If the Leafs prevail, it’s back to the Verizon Center for the deciding game on Tuesday.
The Leafs played a hell of a road game, and though it was not perfect, it couldn’t have been much better, though the power play will get a serious look in the next 48 hours.
Babcock wanted his players to respond after a subpar effort in Game 4, and they did. The same kind of labour has to come on Sunday if they want to survive. And the Leafs know the Capitals will bring everything.
“I don’t think we’re hanging our heads on this,” Auston Matthews said. “We played a pretty solid game and we’re going back home in a must-win. I think we take some positives from this game and move on to the next one.”
In the second period, Matthews scored for the third consecutive game, becoming the first Leafs rookie to score in three playoff games in a row since Wendel Clark in 1986. At the age of 19, Matthews became the first teenager to score in three in a row in the post-season in the NHL since Dainius Zubrus did the same for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997.
There wasn’t much bad blood between the clubs through the first four games. In Game 5, however, there was a turn toward some ugliness, depending on your point of view.
Nazem Kadri caught Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin with a hip check on the left leg toward the end of the first period, sending Ovechkin to the ice and eventually the dressing room.
The Caps tried to get at Kadri, who was assessed a tripping minor at 17:32.
Washington scored on the power play, with T.J. Oshie collecting the puck after Nicklas Backstrom hit the post and putting it into an open net for a 1-0 lead.
Ovechkin appeared to have suffered a serious injury as he clutched his leg and fell to the ice.
However, Ovechkin returned to start the second period and hammered Jake Gardiner on the first shift. Ovechkin was okay after all.
“It’s not like I stuck my knee out or got my arms high or anything like that,” Kadri said. “It happened pretty quick. I thought it was okay. Glad he came back, but he was running around a little bit when he came back so he must have been fine.”
Said Ovechkin, referring to his leg: “All good.”
Babcock, as you might guess, didn’t think there should have been a penalty on the play.
“Trotzy (Caps coach Barry Trotz) probably thought it should have been a major and I thought there should have been no penalty,” Babcock said. “That’s the beauty of the playoffs. The other night when (Roman) Polak is done for the year, our bench thought it should have been a major and they thought it should have been no penalty. That’s kind of the playoffs.”
Later, Kadri took a nasty slash to the back of the leg from Matt Niskanen, and had a welt to show for it afterward.
The Leafs are 6-15 in franchise history when trailing 3-2 in a series. That’s not going to weigh on them going into Sunday.
“We’re not going to dwell on (the loss), we’re going to get ready for Game 6 and put all of our effort into that,” Matt Hunwick said.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD FOR LEAFS' POWER PLAY
Mediocre and less than ordinary.
Special teams are that much crucial in the playoffs, and the Maple Leafs know their power play has to make adjustments in Game 6 against the Washington Capitals.
The Leafs were ineffective with a man advantage in Game 5, coming up empty on four opportunities and throwing little at Caps goalie Braden Holtby.
“We’ll have to go back to the drawing board, they’ve done a good job (in penalty killing) and they’ve got in our head a little bit,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said.
“We’re not coming with the same kind of pace on entries and we’re going to have to win some faceoffs.”
The Leafs are at 17.6% on the power play in the series, scoring three goals on 17 chances. During the regular season, the Leafs were second in the NHL with a 23.8% success rate.
“We need to keep things simpler,” Auston Matthews said. “They do a pretty good job of staying four guys tight and we have to outnumber them at the net.”