Skip to main content

Headlines

playoffs

5 Reasons: Why Maple Leafs were eliminated

Playoff inexperience, power-play struggles led to Toronto being defeated by Capitals in first round

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Correspondent

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs jumped from a 30th-place finish in 2015-16 to a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in one season. Their reward was playing the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference First Round.

Although the Maple Leafs led the best-of-7 series 2-1, the Capitals won the next three games to win it in six.

"We got to play a really good team, a well-coached team with real good players, and got to find out where we're at and where our players are at," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "Until you've been through the playoffs with players, you don't really know the level of the player you have and so you learn a lot about your team. I'm really proud of our guys."

Here are 5 reasons the Maple Leafs were eliminated:

 

1. FREDERIK ANDERSEN OUTDUELED BY BRADEN HOLTBY

As good as Andersen was in Games 5 and 6, saving 60 of 64 shots (.938 save percentage), Holtby was better.

After allowing 14 goals on 150 shots (.907 save percentage) through four games, Holtby showed why he won the Vezina Trophy in 2016 and was nominated again this season. He saved 61 of 63 shots (.968 save percentage) in the final two games, including 37 of 38 in the series-clinching 2-1 overtime win in Game 6.

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm5: Andersen robs Kuznetsov with glove

 

2. POWER PLAY STRUGGLES

The Maple Leafs finished with the second-ranked power play during the regular season (23.8 percent) but went 3-for-18 (16.7 percent) with the man advantage and 1-for-9 in the final three games of the series.

Trailing 4-2 in Game 4, Toronto was unable to score on a two-man advantage for 1:53 to start the third period. In Game 5, they started the third with a power play for 1:34 but could not score to break a 1-1 tie.

Washington took advantage of their power-play opportunities, going 5-for-17 (29.4 percent) in the series.

 

3. PLAYOFF INEXPERIENCE

A young core including Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitchell Marner, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and Nikita Zaitsev all got their first taste of playoff hockey. Babcock thought at times the Maple Leafs were guilty of letting the more playoff-savvy Capitals dictate the level of play. He pointed to the final half of the third period and overtime in Game 6, when the Maple Leafs did not match the Capitals' push.

"I didn't think we had the puck much after [Capitals forward Marcus Johansson tied the game 1-1]," Babcock said. "You have a chance to walk out the door in overtime; it's in your building, you're [facing] elimination but we didn't push them, they pushed us, they were better."

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm6: Matthews roofs gorgeous wrist shot

 

4. DEFENSIVE DEPTH

With Zaitsev out of the lineup in Game 1 and 2, and Roman Polak sustaining a season-ending injury in a collision with Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik in Game 2, it put Toronto's depth to the test. Martin Marincin, who played 25 regular-season games but was a healthy scratch in 30 of the final 32, dressed in all six playoff games. Matt Hunwick, who played predominantly on the third pairing and shorthanded during the regular season, was moved up alongside Morgan Rielly and saw a significant jump in his minutes. In Game 6, Hunwick played a Maple Leafs-high 28:07 and Marincin was out-muscled by Johansson to score the series-clinching goal.

 

5. TOO MANY WEAPONS

The Maple Leafs struggled to contain the Capitals' offensive depth throughout their lineup. Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie tied for the Capitals lead in goals with three. Wilson scored in overtime in Game 1 and twice in Game 4. Williams scored in overtime in Game 5 and Johansson's two goals made the difference in Game 6.

With consistent production across all four lines during the series, the Capitals showed why they finished the regular season with the third-most goals in the League (261).

View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.