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Five Takeaways - Leafs vs. Capitals - 04/19/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 5-4 loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series Wednesday at Air Canada Centre:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Capitals start night in virtually identical fashion to Game 3, take two-goal lead early in opening period. In the Leafs' 4-3 overtime win in Game 3 Monday, Toronto gave up the first goal of the night to the Capitals at the 2:43 mark of the first period, then went down 2-0 to the visitors at 4:49 of the frame. And that's virtually exactly how the first period of Game 4 started Wednesday: Washington got the first goal of the night at 2:58 from winger T.J. Oshie, who was assisted on the play by centre Nicklas Backstrom and defenceman Nate Schmidt - the same three players who combined to score the Caps' first goal in Game 3 - and they made it 2-0 at the 4:34 mark thanks to a power play marker from winger Alex Ovechkin, who also had the second goal of Game 3.

The similarities were eerie, and equally ominous for the Leafs, who were outshot by the Capitals 15-6 in the first 20 minutes and were far too lax and unstructured in their own zone Wednesday. 

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm4: Hyman deflects shot past Holtby

2. Leafs answer Caps' early surge with a goal of their own, but Washington keeps pushing, scores twice more before first intermission. Just as they did in Game 3, the Leafs cut into Washington's two-goal advantage by scoring the third goal of the night, but this time, rather than waiting until there was approximately six minutes left in the opening frame, Toronto scored 42 seconds after Ovechkin made it 2-0: winger Zach Hyman deflected a Jake Gardiner shot past Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, and the Air Canada Centre crowd erupted in glee.

Unfortunately, the Capitals continued to push, and winger Tom Wilson scored twice in less than three minutes late in the first to extend his team's lead to 4-1 before the first intermission. Wilson also prevented the Leafs from scoring their second of the night on a play that saw the puck nearly dribble over the goal line before he pushed it off to the side. In any case, the Buds had to be thoroughly unsatisfied with their effort in the period, and needed to tighten up in their own end if there was to be any shot at getting back into the contest. 

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm4: van Riemsdyk nets wrist shot for PPG

3. Toronto starts second frame with a power play goal, ends period pressuring Washington into taking pair of penalties. Toronto dug itself a major hole in the first period, but although they continued to be beaten by the Caps in puck battles along the boards in the middle frame, the Leafs got better as the period went on and forced the visitors into taking three minor penalties. The first one came at 4:35 and winger James van Riemsdyk made the most of it, firing a shot past Holtby at the 5:39 mark to cut Washington's lead to two goals. 

The second and third Capitals penalties came with 6.4 seconds left in the period (and went to centre Lars Eller, who was sent off for a faceoff violation), and blueliner Brooks Orpik was called for delay of game with three seconds left when he shot the puck over the glass. The end result of the Buds' improved play in Washington's end meant they'd start the third period on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:54, giving them a golden chance to cut the lead to one and tie the game.

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm4: Matthews chips home a loose puck
 
4. Buds pull within one thanks to Matthews' marker with eight minutes left in the third. They couldn't take advantage of the 5-on-3 power play, and Toronto shook off what could've been the Caps' fifth goal of the game - a marker that was disallowed immediately for goalie interference, and confirmed by the officials after a coach's challenge - to remain within two goals midway through the third period. And Washington's lead was cut to a single goal at the 12:00 mark of the frame when centre Auston Matthews grabbed a rebound from a Matt Hunwick shot directly to the right of Holtby and punched the puck in for his second post-season goal.

That got Leafs Nation loud again, and showed Toronto still had gas in their tank as they neared the end of regulation time. The Buds' resilience has been one of their hallmarks all season long, so it was no surprise to see it again.
 
5. Defensive breakdown halts Leafs' momentum, leads to Caps' fifth goal and a tied series. Washington looked like they were feeling the pressure as the third period carried on - indeed, they hadn't scored on Andersen since the first and were outshot 25-11 after the opening frame - but after Matthews scored, the Capitals immediately responded with a strong sequence that exploited a Leafs defensive-zone breakdown and ended with Oshie scoring his second of the game at 12:59 to make it 5-3.

Leafs head coach Mike Babcock pulled Andersen with just under three minutes left in regulation, and although centre Tyler Bozak scored with 26.5 seconds left in regulation to get Toronto back within one goal, it wasn't enough and the Capitals pulled even in the series at two games apiece. Game 5 takes place in D.C. Friday, and Toronto will need to be much better in terms of their defensive structure to get the series back in their favour. The Leafs outshot Washington 33-27 in total, but the Capitals are deep and talented, and allowing them as many open looks as they had at Andersen Wednesday is something that has to change.

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