Tom Wilson picked a perfect time for his first career playoff goal in the National Hockey League.
At the 5:15 mark of overtime, Wilson gloved down an errant Martin Marincin clearing bid, and quickly whipped the puck at the Toronto net. The shot beat Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen high to the short side, enabling the Caps to come all the way back from an early two-goal hole for a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Maple Leafs.
"I don't know who was behind me," recounts Wilson. "I think it may have been [Kevin Shattenkirk] or someone who was calling for the puck. A quick turnover, and I decided I was just going to rip it on net. There are no bad shots in overtime. It found the back of the net, and the celebration started."
Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Wilson snipes short side for OT win
Andersen made 41 saves in a losing effort, and many of them came on extremely good Washington chances.
"He shot it quick," says Andersen of Wilson's game-winner. "He was scanning a little bit to see what kind of options he had. He had a lot of time, and he just got it up quick."
Wilson's goal stunned the Leafs, who jumped out to an early 2-0 lead before the first period was halfway over. A pair of Justin Williams goals enabled Washington to rebound from its slow start and force overtime, setting the stage for Wilson's heroics.
"The first 30 minutes, I'm not happy with our game," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "I don't think anybody in our room [was]."
Video: Barry Trotz talks to the media after a 3-2 OT/win
The game started inauspiciously for the Caps, who fell down 1-0 before the game was two minutes old.
A James van Riemsdyk shot missed the net, but the Toronto winger was able to push the puck back toward the net. Leafs rookie Mitch Marner got a fortuitous bounce off the goalpost, and he had plenty of net at which to shoot and did not miss, staking Toronto to a 1-0 advantage just 95 seconds after the game's opening puck drop, and a mere 15 seconds after it won a draw in its own end of the ice.
"Tough break on the first one," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. "It was a weird play. I'm trying for it not to bounce in off me, and it bounced off the net right on [Marner's] stick. That happens."
Before the first frame was halfway over, the Leafs doubled their lead. With Nazem Kadri providing a screen just inside the top of the paint, Jake Gardiner's seeing-eye shot from the slot clicked off a stick or body and got behind Holtby, putting Toronto up by a pair of pucks at 9:44 of the first. Referee Gord Dwyer initially waved the goal off, claiming that Kadri was guilty of "interference on the goalkeeper."
Video: ALL CAPS | April 13
The Leafs quickly and successfully issued a coach's video challenge. Kadri came about as close to Holtby as one could get without bumping him, but there was no actual contact and the upstart Leafs were out to a 2-0 start.
"I had a sight line on it and it just deflects a couple of times," says Holtby. "That stuff is going to happen if we play in our end a bit."
Less than a minute after the Gardiner goal, Andre Burakovsky drew an interference call on Brian Boyle. Thirty seconds later, Zach Hyman was deemed guilty of tripping Marcus Johansson, giving Washington a two-man advantage for 90 seconds. The Caps couldn't cash in during that span, but they halved the Toronto lead just two seconds after Boyle was sprung from the box.
Shattenkirk's stick disintegrated as he wound up for a one-timer, and the puck dribbled toward T.J. Oshie at the bottom of the left circle. Oshie quickly fed Williams at the back door, and the veteran winger tapped it home.
Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Williams slams home Oshie's silky feed
Coming less than three minutes after Gardiner's goal, it was certainly a timely strike for the Capitals.
"It's a big goal," says Williams. "Everything is about momentum, and [the Leafs] certainly had it to start. And we kind of calmed down and settled the nerves. We did what we wanted to do, come back from two goals. Now, you keep the pressure on."
The goals came quickly early in the game, but things slowed down considerably in the middle frame. The Leafs iced the puck frequently early in the second, and the Caps did the same in the middle of that stanza. But late in the second, an opportunistic Williams tied the game.
Andersen made the stop on Matt Niskanen's shot from the high slot, but Williams seemed to be the only guy in the building who saw the puck sitting loose at the Toronto goaltender's feet. While Andersen's teammates stood still around him, Williams pounced on the puck and jammed it in, tying the tilt at the 16-minute mark of the second.
Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Williams pokes home his second of game
"There were a lot of sticks in there," says Williams. "I saw that [Andersen] didn't have it; I saw that he was unaware where it was. I just went to the net, and fortunately it popped there."
"It hit my stick all weird and I thought it was going to go in the netting behind the net," says Andersen. "It was just one of those where I lost track of it and it ended up laying right there in front and he poked it in."
The Caps began to tilt the ice a bit in the third, grinding the Leafs down in their own end and getting their cycle game going. Toronto needed Andersen to come up big twice in one-on-one situations, once on Nicklas Backstrom and once late in the frame on Marcus Johansson.
Video: R1, Gm1: Maple Leafs @ Capitals
"They came at us hard," says Trotz of the Leafs. "They came with a good game plan. They got on our [defense], we turned some pucks over and we gave them real easy access to the puck I thought today in the first 30 minutes. The last 30 minutes, it was a little bit better and therefore we started to have some [offensive] zone time, and some of that zone time turned into opportunities.
"To me, it's a really good wake-up call for us. You get in the playoffs, there are no easy games. The Leafs are well prepared, they're a good hockey team, their kids are exceptional talents, and they can play. You've got to play them hard. I know we've got another level. I think it's great that we didn't have the start that we [wanted], and we were able to come out with a positive. We can build on that, I think."
Game 1 turned out to be a cheap lesson for the Capitals, and perhaps a missed opportunity for the Leafs. But Toronto coach Mike Babcock was mostly pleased with the way his youthful team played in what was the maiden playoff voyage for many of them.
Video: Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock on Game 1
"I thought it was a confidence builder for sure," says the Toronto bench boss. "I liked our game. I didn't like that we wouldn't shoot the puck. We had so many opportunities to shoot and we wouldn't. We wanted to pass it into the net instead of shoot it into the net. I thought Wilson did a good job of just doing that; you just turn and you throw it on net. That's playoff hockey; things bounce to somebody and it goes in, or you get a second chance. So I didn't think we did a good job of that, but I liked a lot of things about our game."