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Round 1

5 Reasons: Why Capitals advanced

Strong special teams, play of goalie Braden Holtby helped Washington past Maple Leafs, into second round

by Katie Brown / NHL.com Correspondent

The Washington Capitals eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs with a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Sunday to win the best-of-7 series 4-2.

Five of the six games were decided in overtime and all six were decided by one goal. The Capitals overcame an injury to one of their top defensemen and had to contend with a young and determined Maple Leafs team that tested their resolve.

The Capitals will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive time and third time in eight years. The series starts at Verizon Center in Washington on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2).

Here are 5 reasons the Capitals advanced:

 

1. SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams became the difference in a series where games fluctuated between high-scoring affairs to stingy goaltending battles.

The Capitals held the Maple Leafs power play, ranked second in the NHL during the regular season (23.8 percent), to three goals on 18 chances (16.7 percent) in the series, including 0-for-4 in Game 5. The Capitals' power play, which was tied for third with the Penguins this season (23.1 percent), went 5-for-17 (29.4 percent) in six games. Forward T.J. Oshie and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk led the Capitals with three power-play points each.

Video: NHL Tonight discusses the Capitals' OT win in Game 6

 

2. BRADEN HOLTBY

Holtby allowed four goals each in Games 2, 3 and 4, but bounced back to allow two goals on 63 shots in Games 5 and 6. He made 37 saves in Game 6.

Holtby was named a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second straight year during the series. He won the award in 2016.

"I know earlier in the series [Holtby] took some criticism and there were a lot of doubters out there," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Sunday. "The only people who doubted him were the people on the outside. But in our room there was no doubt. He's been too good for too long, he makes those key saves and that's why he's a Vezina candidate the last few years."

 

3. DEFENSIVE DEPTH

The Capitals had to rely on their depth when defenseman Karl Alzner missed the final four games of the series because of an upper-body injury. Nate Schmidt moved into his spot on the top pair in Game 3, and his speed and playmaking ability matched up well against the fast, young Maple Leafs forwards. He had two assists and a plus-5 rating.

 

4. SECOND LINE

The Capitals' second line of center Evgeny Kuznetsov (one goal, two assists), right wing Justin Williams (three goals, three assists) and left wing Marcus Johansson (two goals, three assists) combined for 14 points during the series. Williams scored in overtime of Game 5 and Johansson scored both goals in the 2-1 series-clinching overtime victory.

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm5: Williams one-times overtime winner

 

5. T.J. OSHIE AND CO.

Between forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Oshie, Washington's top players played like top players during the series.

Oshie led the Capitals in playoff scoring with seven points (three goals, four assists). He scored two goals in a 5-4 win in Game 4, and a power-play goal in Game 5 after Ovechkin left the game following a hit by Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri.

Ovechkin had three goals and Backstrom had six points (two goals, four assists).

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