Both the Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs have won two games and have scored exactly 14 goals in the first four games of their best-of-seven, first-round set in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, and Friday's Game 5 will determine which of the two teams will be in a position to clinch the series on Sunday when it returns north to Toronto for Game 6. All four games have been decided by a single goal, three of them in overtime.
Now, we move on to Game 5. In the history of the NHL, teams that win Game 5 of a best-of-seven set that's tied 2-2 go on to win the series 78 percent of the time.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | April 21
Washington made a positive lineup adjustment in moving Tom Wilson onto Lars Eller's line for Game 4; Wilson responded with a pair of goals in the first period.
The Caps also made some strategic adjustments to bring about more efficient breakouts and to get more bodies and pucks to the net. Those tweaks also had positive effects, and the Caps will look to keep them going while anticipating Toronto's adjustments as well.
Good, clean breakouts are the fuel to Washington's game. Without them, there isn't as much need for bodies and pucks to the net, because they'll be spending more time than they'd like in their own end of the ice.
"It's going to be important," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen of his team's breakouts. "The game is fluid. So if you have even 15 or 20 seconds in your own zone before you have to break out, those forecheckers have a little less juice, so your breakouts are a little better. So the general theme is, we need to be on our toes and assertive with our pressure when it's the right time to do that, and that helps our game out overall.
"Breakouts are certainly pressure that we're heading north, with the puck on our stick and setting up our pressure."
Washington has had some difficulty in the third period of the last few games, too, and that's an area where they'll need to be better in Game 5. From the start of the third to the end of the game, the Leafs have owned a combined 29-7 advantage in shots on net and a 67-18 advantage in shot attempts in the last two games. Toronto has also scored three goals to just one for Washington over that stretch.
Washington turned in a strong first 39-plus minutes in both games in Toronto, but it was victimized by a last-minute goal in the second period of Game 3, and it took two minor penalties in the final six seconds of the second period of Game 4. The Capitals were also nicked for a power-play goal in the waning seconds of the second period of Game 2.
Strong starts like we've seen from the Caps in the last two games will be most welcome, but finishing out the second period on a high note might also put the Capitals in better stead for the game's final 20 minutes, too.
Video: Rinkside Update: Andre Burakovsky | April 21
Tale Of The Tape - Washington and Toronto combined for 22 goals in their three regular season meetings, and they've rolled up 23 of them in the last three games of this series and 28 overall. Each team has scored 14 and each team has surrendered 14.
Washington has 13 goals from its forwards and one from its blueline. Toronto has a dozen from its forwards and two from its defensemen. The Caps have gotten 10 goals from their top six and three from the bottom six. The Leafs have received nine goals from their top six and three from the bottom six.
Both teams have accumulated 23 assists for a total of 37 points on those 14 goals. Very little separates these two teams through the first four games of this series, and starting with Friday's Game 5, both teams will be vying to take control of the series and achieve that separation.
"I think we're going to have to have the same jump and the same intensity in a few key areas that allows our skill to come out," says Niskanen. "If we take care of business in those areas, we're going to give ourselves a good chance."
Video: Trotz talks to the media prior to tonight's Game 5
Roster Move - The Caps recalled center Chandler Stephenson from AHL Hershey on Friday morning. Whenever a recall is made, it raises the antennae and makes you wonder about the possibility of an injury, but Caps coach Barry Trotz says that's not the case here. Trotz says the Caps will go with the same lineup in Game 5 as they deployed in Wednesday's Game 4 in Toronto.
"That was the plan all along," says Trotz, of the Stephenson recall. "We just felt that we needed two [extra] forwards. We wanted him to have some time in Hershey; we wanted to get [the Bears] into the playoffs, number one, and we wanted to have a couple of additional forwards. It's more positional based than anything."
The Caps have been carrying winger Paul Carey as their 13th forward, but Stephenson gives them two extra forwards, including one who is a natural center, should a need arise at that position.
Stephenson was recalled late in the regular season, and he skated for Washington on April 9 in its regular season finale against Florida. Stephenson then remained with the Caps and took part in the first playoff practice before returning to Hershey for the final weekend of the AHL regular season, and he helped the Bears clinch a playoff berth in their penultimate game of the regular season.
Now that the regular season is over, there are no longer any salary cap or roster limit implications that might have hindered such a move during the regular season. Hershey starts its pursuit of the Calder Cup tonight in Lehigh Valley against the Phantoms, playing Game 1 of a best-of-five set.
Video: Ovechkin talks to the media before #CapsLeafs Game 5
In The Nets - As was the case in each of the first four games of this series, Friday's goaltending match-up features Holtby for the Capitals and Frederik Andersen for the Leafs. Both netminders have surrendered 14 goals in four games in the series, but Holtby's 3.01 GAA and .907 save pct. are a shade better than Andersen's 3.05 GAA and .905 save pct., because the Washington netminder has been in goal for four more minutes and has faced three more shots than his Toronto counterpart.
For the first time in his playoff career, Holtby has surrendered four or more goals in three straight starts. It should also be noted that in two of those games, the fourth goal came in overtime, and Holtby won the third one.
This is not at all a situation to which Holtby is accustomed. He has not had three straight starts with four or more goals against in more than two years, since late January of 2015. In that instance, he rebounded with five straight starts with two or fewer goals against, including a pair of shutouts.
Earlier in the 2014-15 season, Holtby also surrendered four or more in three straight games from Oct. 29 to Nov. 4, 2014. Immediately after, he reeled off six straight starts with two or fewer goals against.
Many of the 14 goals he has surrendered in this series have come on deflections and bounces and can be chalked up as "puck luck," but because it keeps happening, you've got to give credit to the Maple Leafs for getting bodies and pucks to the areas where such bounces are possible. And because it keeps happening, the Caps and Holtby must think in terms of adjustments and tweaks that can be made to stem the tide.
With that in mind, Holtby and goaltending coach Mitch Korn worked on some of those elements on Thursday, an off day for the Capitals, with the help of defenseman Taylor Chorney.
"It was more of trying to get the body control back a little bit," says Holtby. "In any situation, in any series or circumstances of events, you try to pick out trends. And in order to combat some of those bounces, I need to get my upper body moving and certain areas shifting, and keep my lower body based on my edges more than usual, I think.
"I was just kind of getting back to basics. Obviously at this time of year you don't have a lot of time to work on those things; it's more of a training camp or first half of the season of thing. So it was nice to get out there and simplify things. Chorney was the teammate he always is in helping us out, so it was worthwhile."
Video: Caps players meet the media before Game 5
Andersen finished the regular season with a flourish, permitting two or fewer goals in 13 of his last 16 starts. He has surrendered three or more in each of the first four games of this series, and he yielded five goals in Game 4, doing so for the first time since Feb. 6 when he was dented for half a dozen goals in a 6-5 overtime loss to the New York Islanders in Brooklyn.
"Well, I think he's a good goaltender, so I think that's the biggest thing right there," says Leafs coach Mike Babcock of Andersen. "When you're a good goaltender and you've got confidence in yourself, you've got a foundation built there to go back to.
"Sometimes it doesn't go your way; that's life. Over an 82-game spread, things settle out. In the playoffs, you don't have as much time for them to settle out. You've got to be good every night, and you've got to dig in."
All Lined Up - Here is how we expect the Capitals and the Maple Leafs to look when they take the ice for Game 4 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series on Wednesday night in Toronto:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
65-Burakovsky, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 10-Connolly
27-Alzner (upper body)
11-Hyman, 34-Matthews, 29-Nylander
25-van Riemsdyk, 42-Bozak, 16-Marner
47-Komarov, 43-Kadri, 12-Brown
15-Martin, 24-Boyle, 28-Kapanen
19-Lupul (sports hernia surgery)
23-Fehr (upper body)
46-Polak (lower body)