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Five Takeaways - Leafs at Capitals - 04/21/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 2-1 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series Friday at Verizon Center:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Leafs have improved start to game, but trail after 20 minutes thanks to late power play goal by Capitals. Toronto's players and coaches said prior to Game 5 they needed to have a better start to the game than they did in Games 3 and 4, when they surrendered the first two goals of the game. That's what they did Friday, preventing the Capitals from estab-lishing an early lead - but after a Leafs penalty at 17:32 of the first, winger T.J. Oshie scored his third goal of the series and Washington had a 1-0 advantage entering the second period.

The Leafs were outshot by the Caps 11-6 in the first 20 minutes, but they didn't allow Wash-ington to break down their defence repeatedly as they did in the prior two games, and alt-hough they trailed as of the first intermission, that was a step forward for the young group.

 

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm5: Matthews scores with quick hands

2. Toronto ties things up early in the middle frame on Matthews' third post-season marker. As the game got increasingly physical and chippy, the Leafs used their speed to generate some solid chances, and centre Auston Matthews made the most of one of them, knocking a rebound from a William Nylander shot from the side boards past Caps goaltender Braden Holtby at the 6:00 mark of the second frame to even the score at a goal apiece.

The goal was Matthews' third of the post-season and his fourth point in his past three games, underscoring how dynamic the youngster continues to be in his first NHL season. But he wasn't the only one contributing on offence: Nylander's primary assist on the play was his third helper of the playoffs and his fourth point in the past three games. The linemates feed off each other's creativity and ability to get the puck on net, and the game-tying goal was an example of what often happens when they combine their talents. 

3. Buds' power play can't get untracked despite numerous chances, but overall defence gets better as game unfolds and overtime is needed once again. The Leafs' power play unit was one of their better features through the regular season, but despite generating four chances with the extra man in the first three periods of action Friday, Toronto's man-advantage units were discombobulated and ineffective against the Caps. That said, the Buds made up for it with a more determined effort on the defensive side than they had in Game 4, and - with the help of Andersen, who was very sharp in turning aside all but one of the 26 shots he saw in three periods - they shut down Washington's potent group of offen-sive talents through the final two regulation periods.

With the series tied at two, both teams played with a sense of urgency, and Leafs Nation could take pride knowing Toronto's players were doing their utmost to match the Capitals' performance and give as hard as they got. So it was little wonder, then, that for the fourth time in five games in the series, there was no winner through 60 minutes of action and overtime was required to determine the victor. 
 
4. Williams scores early in overtime to give Caps the win. The teams have been about as evenly-matched as it gets in playoff hockey, but after winning a draw in the defensive zone, the Capitals moved the puck quickly up ice in overtime, moved it into the Leafs' zone and centre Evgeny Kuznetsov found winger Justin Williams driving toward the net. Williams had no Leafs defender on him, leaving the playoff-tested veteran to fire in close on Andersen and win the game at the 1:04 mark with his third goal of the post-season.

It was a letdown, of course, for the Leafs to lose a closely-contested matchup like this one, but the Capitals deserve credit for taking advantage of their opportunities.
 
5. Leafs head home for must-win Game 6 showdown Sunday at Air Canada Centre, but still can be confident they can compete with Washington. Despite the loss, the Leafs have pushed the Capitals to four overtime games and won half of them, so by no means should they be of the mindset they can't beat Washington in front of what will no doubt be a raucous Air Canada Centre crowd in Game 6 Sunday night and force a seventh-and-deciding showdown back in D.C. on Tuesday. 

As always, it's the small details that usually win or lose you games at this point in the NHL year, and in Game 5, it was Toronto's inability to score on the power play, combined with their momentary breakdown in overtime, that gave the Capitals the win. If the Leafs can put forth a similar effort and get their offence on track Sunday, there's every chance this series gets extended and the Buds live to play another day.

 

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