When every game of a playoff series is decided by a single goal, and when five of six games go into overtime, the outcome is often determined by the details. Buttoning down those small details and nuances can add up to success, and missing just one of them can result in failure.
Marcus Johansson scored his second goal of the game at 6:31 of overtime on Sunday night at Toronto's Air Canada Centre, giving Washington a 2-1 win in Game 6 and ending a thrill-ride of a first-round series between the Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Sunday's win sets up a second-round date with the Pittsburgh Penguins in a series that begins on Thursday night in Washington.
"It was a tough fought series," says Johansson. "I said it before, give a lot of credit to [the Maple Leafs]. They gave us everything they had. We had to work hard for it and we had to stick with it for a long time, and that shows a lot of character in our group."
Video: Johansson on his two goals in Game 6
At 6:24 of the extra frame, the Leafs were guilty of icing the puck. On the surface, it didn't seem like a serious issue for Toronto. The Leafs had their fourth line of Matt Martin, Brian Boyle and Kasperi Kapanen on the ice, but the trio had been out for less than half a minute, and fatigue didn't figure to be a factor. Plus, Boyle is one of the best face-off men in the league. He won 62 percent of his draws in the first round and ranks fourth in the league.
Caps coach Barry Trotz opted to put Evgeny Kuznetsov's line on the ice for that offensive-zone draw. Kuznetsov and linemates Johansson and Justin Williams formed a consistently effective trio throughout the series in terms of possession and scoring chances, but one that had been somewhat snake-bitten, too. Williams scored twice in Game 1 and netted the overtime winner on a fine feed from Kuznetsov in Game 5, but Johansson came into Game 6 as the only member of Washington's top six who hadn't scored. Kuznetsov has one goal.
"I was really feeling good about Kuzy's line," says Trotz. "We had a little chat [Sunday] morning, that whole line. For whatever reason, I knew if they could have a big game we were going to win the series tonight."
Video: Caps clinch series on Johansson's OT winner in Game 6
Kuznetsov decisioned Boyle on the right-dot face-off, winning it back to John Carlson at the right point. As Johansson lurked down low in the corner and drew attention from Leafs defenseman Martin Marincin, Carlson pushed the puck to Williams at the right half wall. Williams wound up to shoot, and Johansson was able to lose Marincin a bit by going all the way around the Toronto net to the back door.
Williams had a lane and he fired, with only Johansson and Marincin down low. At the top of the paint, Johansson outmuscled Marincin and jammed the puck past Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen, almost as the disc arrived at the net.
"We just wanted to get control of the puck on that face-off," says Johansson. "They had to stay out there, and Kuzy did a great job of winning it. Stick found me going to the backside, and we just got lucky to get a stick on it and get the rebound in."
Video: WSH@TOR, Gm6: Johansson clinches series win in OT
Johansson's overtime heroics put a coda on the game and the series, and an overtime in which Washington was dominant and assertive, knowing it needed this game to buy an extra day or two to rest and get ready for the next series with the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
The two teams played nearly 48 minutes of scoreless hockey to start Sunday's game, and it was the Leafs who scored first, getting another favorable bounce to take a 1-0 lead at the 7:45 mark of the third period.
Morgan Rielly's routine dump-in took a wild carom off a stanchion and bounced right into the slot in front of Caps goalie Braden Holtby. Auston Matthews got to it first, and he skillfully scooped it high into the top right corner of the cage over Holtby's left shoulder to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead, their first lead in regulation time of any game since the third period of Game 2.
Video: Coach Trotz talks after the Game 6 win in Toronto
"It was just a pretty fortunate bounce," admits Matthews. "It just popped right there and I just tried to make a play. I was kind of bobbling it a little bit, so I just tried to make a play and get it on net and I was fortunate for it to go in."
But just over five minutes later, the Caps pulled even on a favorable bounce of their own.
Marincin's clearing pass never made it to its intended receiver, as Washington's Lars Eller claimed it in neutral ice at the end of his shift and carried back into the Toronto zone. Eller entered on the left side and made a lateral feed to Johansson in the middle of the ice. Johansson was able to corral a rolling puck and he chipped it toward the short side from below the bottom of the left circle. The puck hit Andersen's blocker and trickled just over the goal line, never actually making it to the back of the net.
"I just saw a little opening over his pad," says Johansson, "and I think it hit his pad and something else before it went in. He's a big, good goalie. It's not easy to score and you have to sometimes find those different kinds of shots and goals to get the puck to the net. I'm just happy it went in."
Johansson's first goal of the game made it a 1-1 contest with 7:09 remaining.
Video: WSH@TOR, Gm6: Johansson sneaks home puck to tie game
Both sides had chances to end it in the final minutes of regulation, but neither goaltender bent, and overtime was required for the fifth time in six games.
"In the overtime," says Trotz, "I just thought we went for it. We had a good push and we were going for it. We were pushing hard, and I like that mentality."
For Kuznetsov, beating one of the league's face-off behemoths on a face-off after an icing call in overtime led to the game-winning goal for his team just seven seconds later, and it also supplied some measure of justice.
Video: Caps players talk to the media after a Game 6 win
The outcome of Sunday's contest in Toronto was a reversal of Washington's fortunes in a Game 2 loss to the Leafs at Verizon Center. In that game, Kuznetsov lost a defensive-zone draw to Kapanen - who was taking the first draw of his NHL career after Boyle was chased from the dot by the linesman - after the Caps were guilty of icing. Less than half a minute later, Boyle made a brilliant feed to set up Kapanen for the game-winning goal that tied the series at a game apiece.
Last spring, the Caps roared out to a 3-0 series lead over Philadelphia in the first round, but needed three tries to get that fourth and final win of the series in Game 6. This time around, Washington took care of business on its first chance at knocking out the pesky, plucky and extremely talented Leafs.
Video: ALL CAPS | April 23
"It's going to be like this," says Johansson. "This is the playoffs. It's going to be tight; it's never going to be an easy ride. I think it's good for us that we got a start where everything didn't go smoothly. You get right into it and you have to work hard and battle for it, and that's what we had to do."