April 23 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: CSN, NBCSN
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Game 5, 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round, Washington leads series 3-2
Two nights after Justin Williams' goal early in overtime gave the Capitals a 2-1 win in Game 5 and a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Caps will try to eliminate the Leafs in their own barn in Sunday's Game 6.
Friday's Game 5 win puts the Capitals in a strong position in the series, but they've still got to find a way to administer the death blow. Three wins aren't enough to win a best-of-seven set; you need four. And that fourth one tends to be the hardest one to nail down.
"The fourth game is always the toughest game," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "[The Leafs] are going to come with their absolute best game, and we're going to have to come with our absolute best game. You get an opportunity to push someone off the cliff, you need to push them off if you can. The difference is we've got a little bit of wiggle room and they don't."
Video: Coach Trotz updates the media before Game 6
The two teams combined for 22 goals in three regular season meetings, and they combined for 23 goals in their previous three playoff games going into Friday's Game 5. But the offensive fireworks were muted on Friday. There were just two goals in the first 60 minutes, and just one of those was scored at five-on-five.
"I think both teams were probably in that same mode," says Trotz. "It got tightened up a little bit. I think you're getting more familiar each game with each other, and therefore you're sort of nullifying some of each other's strengths, I guess. Everybody's starting to get angry at each other, because you've been playing a long series against each other. The more you play, the more you get to know their tendencies and they know ours. Maybe some of that offense goes away a little bit. The games get tighter as they get more important."
"I'm not surprised, no," says Toronto forward Nazem Kadri. "This is what we expected. We expected it to be tight games. It feels like we've been playing in the playoffs for the last month, just because the last part of our season it was almost do or die. So we're confident going into these games and we understand what our capabilities are."
As he has done so often in the course of his career in the NHL, Williams came up big when it mattered most. Friday's game-winner was the second of his career in overtime in the playoffs, but he has now scored game-winning playoff goals for four different teams in a playoffs, a feat matched only by Marian Hossa in NHL history.
"There is a level of competitiveness that I think some people are able to bring themselves to, and there are some guys who can just bring it higher," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie of Williams. "He is one of those guys. He is one of those guys that, when everyone gets tense and everyone grabs their stick a little tight, he gets more focused and finds ways to pull off the big play. Obviously that's what we need at that time and he stepped up for us."
Oshie scored the Capitals' first goal of the game late in the first, giving the Caps five power-play goals in as many games in the series. Washington has scored at least one goal with the extra man in four of the five games to date. The Leafs had scored a power-play goal in three straight games heading into Friday's contest, but the Caps shutdown all for Toronto power plays in Game 5, holding the Leafs without a shot on goal for the first two of those opportunities.
"Because of those kills, we had an opportunity to win, that's for sure," says Williams. "I think we took four in that period. Our penalty kill did a great job, and it has done it all season and it has done it all series. And [Caps goalie Braden Holtby] certainly played a great game and he gave us an opportunity to win."
After surrendering four or more goals in three straight games for the first time in his Stanley Cup playoff career, Holtby stopped 24 of 25 shots in Friday's game. He set the tone right away, thwarting the Leafs' Leo Komarov on a two-on-one just 20 seconds after the game's opening puck drop.
The upstart Maple Leafs, in the playoffs for the first time in four springs, have given the Caps all they can handle and then some. And when the game tightened up on Friday, the Leafs proved capable of playing that style as well.
"I thought we played well tonight, and so did they, though," says Toronto blueliner Jake Gardiner. "It was a good battle, and it just went their way tonight. We've just got to regroup [Saturday] and come back on Sunday.
"It's never easy to lose. Especially overtime games are tough. We played well, but that being said, we've got to forget about it now and move on."
The Caps and Leafs split the two games played in Toronto, with Washington winning Game 4 here by a 5-4 count. That's the only one of the five games in the series that hasn't gone to overtime. Washington and Toronto have split those four overtime contests.
"We want to be right [back] here in overtime in Game 7," says Toronto coach Mike Babcock. "I think it's a good series and a lot of fun, so let's just keep enjoying ourselves. But lets' go into Toronto and let's play right. Let's not get all wound up by our crowd and try to wow them. Let's just come out and play and take care of the puck."
"Right off the opening draw, I think we've got to set the tone," says Gardiner. "Get the puck deep and go forecheck and just play simple hockey."
The winner of this series moves on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"The fourth win is always the toughest win," says Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov, "but we're just going to play our game."