The first 10 minutes of Thursday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs definitely did not go Washington's way. Before the first frame was even halfway over, the Caps were in a two-goal hole to the upstart and significantly less experienced Maple Leafs.
But good teams find ways to win when they're not playing quite to peak performance, and the Capitals did exactly that in Game 1. Washington played the long game, wearing down the Toronto defense in the second half of the game and getting a pair of big goals from Justin Williams to even the score at 2-2 heading to the third.
Video: Wilson, Williams lead Caps to Game 1 overtime win
The Caps dominated the Leafs in the final period, and only the strong goaltending of Toronto's Frederik Andersen kept Washington from forging ahead. In overtime, Andersen made a couple more strong stops early, but Caps winger Tom Wilson capitalized on a turnover and quickly whipped a shot past Andersen on the short side to give the Caps the first game, 3-2.
Washington went into Thursday's game having been idle since Sunday's season finale. It was the Capitals' longest break between games in two months, since the bye week. Game 1 marked the first time all season the Caps were able to win a game with more than two days of rest in between. The Capitals went 0-4-3 in such situations during the regular season.
"[We were] perhaps a little tentative with the puck early; playoff jitters a little bit to start," says Williams. "But once the game gets going, your adrenaline takes over and you start to make plays. And we started to make more plays, we started to move the puck, we started to impose our will a little bit. But it's playoff hockey. It's one shot either way, most of the time."
Video: Williams, Wilson, Shattenkirk and Holtby on victory
Wilson's Winner - Wilson's game-winning goal came against his hometown team, the team he grew up rooting for. And it was the first playoff goal of his NHL career, coming from a guy who made his NHL debut in a playoff game as a teenager.
"Lots of emotion," says Wilson. "It's obviously pretty crazy once the puck goes in. It's a whirlwind. I got to watch it briefly in a [postgame] interview. You know what? It's a good feeling. Hopefully we keep building those good feelings and keep it rolling here."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wilson is the first player in Caps franchise history to score his first career playoff goal in overtime.
Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Wilson snipes short side for OT win
Big Game Hunter - Williams scored two goals in a playoff game for the fourth time in his NHL career and the first time since April 28, 2014 when he had a pair of goals and a helper in a game against San Jose while he was a member of the Los Angeles Kings.
Thursday's game was also Williams' 18th multiple-point game in the Stanley Cup playoffs. With 128 career playoff games under his belt, Williams leads all players on both teams in this series.
Defensive Depth - Toronto played Game 1 without rookie defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, one of two Leafs defensemen (along with Jake Gardiner) to play in all 82 regular season games. Zaitsev, who finished second on the team in average ice time per game (22:01) and was second only to Gardiner in scoring among Toronto defensemen, was injured in Toronto's regular season finale against Columbus on Sunday.
Zaitsev's absence from the lineup for the first time this season forced the Toronto coaching staff to make some adjustments. Martin Marincin drew into the lineup in Zaitsev's absence; Marincin played just 25 games during the regular season, skated in just two of Toronto's last 32 games and had been sitting idle for a month, since March 14.
Video: Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock on Game 1
Matt Hunwick, who averaged 17:58 a night during the regular season, logged 26:04 in Game 1. Gardiner skated 21:32 a night during the season and he led the Leafs with 26:27 in Game 1. Roman Polak was about six minutes over his season's average in Game 1, and the Leafs had four defensemen who skated more than 30 shifts and logged 24 or more minutes, rounding up in Polak's case (23:52).
"Last year, I played a lot of minutes," says Hunwick. "This year, it's been a little different role; I've played on the third pair most of the time with Roman and it's been a real good fit. But with [Zaitsev] out, some extra minutes are there. I'm happy to take them if I play well."
Toronto surrendered the most regular season goals of any of the 16 playoff teams, and its defense bent but mostly didn't break in Game 1. The Caps began to erode the Toronto defense in the third and in overtime, out-attempting the Leafs by a combined 30-16 over the final 25:15 of the game.
On the other bench, no Caps defenseman skated more than 30 shifts and only two (Dmitry Orlov at 25:22 and Matt Niskanen at 24:36) were above 22 minutes.
When Thursday's game ended abruptly in overtime, it ended seven seconds into Marincin's second shift of the extra session. Seeing Washington's fourth line on the ice for its first overtime shift, the Leafs' staff likely figured it was a good opportunity to get its third pair on for a shift, easing the burden on the team's top four a bit. But Wilson was able to foil that strategy, capitalizing on the Marincin turnover and end the game.
Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Williams slams home Oshie's silky feed
Secondary Scoring - A lack of secondary scoring has been one of the problems that has kept the Caps from advancing deeper into the playoffs over the last two seasons, so Wilson's goal was quite obviously a big one. But it also continues a pattern that the Caps established during the regular season.
In 2015-16, the Caps got a total of 62 goals in 82 games from forwards outside of their top six. This season, Washington got 76 goals from those forwards. Moreover, 24 of that group's goals were the first goal of the game for either team, and 16 of them stood up as game-winners.
Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Williams pokes home his second of game
Quick Study - Leafs forward Mitch Marner wasted little time in scoring his first NHL playoff goal. The teenaged phenom, still a few weeks shy of his 20th birthday, scored his first playoff goal on his first playoff shot on goal just 36 seconds into his first shift in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
According to Elias, Marner became the first Maple Leafs rookie to score a playoff goal since Jeff Farkas (no relation to Scut) did so against the New Jersey Devils on May 6, 2000.
Also according to Elias, Marner is the first NHL player to score within two minutes of his Stanley Cup playoff debut since Montreal's Sergei Kostitsyn scored 34 seconds into his postseason debut on April 10, 2008. Marner is the first Leafs rookie to achieve that feat since Andy Blair in 1929, and he is the first Toronto teenager to score a playoff goal since Daniel Marois did so against Detroit in 1988.
Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Wilson on his game-winner in overtime
By The Numbers - Orlov led the Caps with 25:22 in ice time … Kevin Shattenkirk led the Caps with nine shots on net and 10 shot attempts … Orlov led Washington with three blocked shots … The two teams combined for 99 hits in the game, 52 coming from the Capitals. Matt Martin led the Leafs with 10 hits while Niskanen paced the Caps with seven … Evgeny Kuznetsov win eight of 10 draws (80%) and Jay Beagle won 10 of 16 (63%) … Brian Boyle won 13 of 17 face-offs (76%) to lead the Leafs.