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Justin Williams rescues Capitals with another clutch goal

Forward scores in overtime to win Game 5 against Maple Leafs

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Justin Williams was talking about big moments again.

It has been a common theme for the Washington Capitals since the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and few know more about coming through in them than Williams.

He did again Friday, scoring 1:04 into overtime to give the Capitals a 2-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Verizon Center.

The Capitals lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 and can advance to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round with a win in Game 6 at Air Canada Centre on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, CSN-DC). 

"These are big moments," Williams said. "To win a championship you need to relish these moments and you need to come up big in these moments."

 

[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Maple Leafs series coverage]

 

Williams, who won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, has been talking about these moments since the Capitals didn't come through in enough of them in losing to the Penguins in six games in the Eastern Conference Second Round last season. After the Maple Leafs won Games 2 and 3 in overtime, it appeared it might be happening again.

But the Capitals were able to hang on for a 5-4 win in Game 4 on Wednesday in Toronto and battled through a tighter-checking, sometimes-chippy game on Friday. After giving up four goals in three straight games, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby was a big part of the win, with 24 saves.

Auston Matthews' rebound goal, which tied the game at 1-1 6:00 into the second period, was the lone shot to elude Holtby, who looked a lot more like a reigning Vezina Trophy winner than in the past three games.

"There wasn't much difference from last game, I don't think," Holtby said. "It was just things happened last game. I thought every game we've made good adjustments to their traffic and their tips and things like that, and we got better at it tonight and we're going to work at it and get better for Game 6, too."

The Capitals and Maple Leafs played better defensively than they had in the series, and Holtby set the tone early with a save on Leo Komarov on a 2-on-1 20 seconds into the game.

"After that, you knew he was zoned in," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.

The Capitals had a scare when captain Alex Ovechkin had to be helped off the ice after being on the receiving end of low hip check from Nazem Kadri with 2:28 remaining in the first period. With Kadri penalized for tripping, the Capitals responded with a goal from T.J. Oshie during the ensuing power play to take a 1-0 lead at 18:15 of the first.

Fortunately for the Capitals, Ovechkin was able to return. 

"There's only one Ovi, and when you see him down like that you get a little nervous and you get a little upset," Oshie said. "I thought we responded the right way with scoring the goal right away."

But the Maple Leafs kept pushing back. That's the way it has been all series.

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

By now it's irrelevant that the Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy for the second season in a row and the young Maple Leafs were the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. There have been ebbs and flows, but for the most part they have been evenly matched. 

After five one-goal games, four that required overtime, they are separated by one win and one goal (16-15 Capitals) and the shots on goal are even (175-175).

"It's really close," Williams said. "You need to go into every series expecting seven games and that's certainly what I expected coming in. I hope it doesn't. I hope we're able to finish it off. But these are two great teams battling and only one gets the opportunity to move on."

Williams, 35, demonstrated again why the Capitals signed him as an unrestricted free agent in 2015. He has 16 goals and 20 assists in Games 5-7 of playoff series in his NHL career (43 games).

"I haven't scored that many big goals," he said. "I was in the right place at the right time tonight."

Williams humbly credited his linemates, Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov, for setting him up on the winner. The play started with Jay Beagle winning a draw from Matthews in the Capitals end.

While Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen carried the puck up ice and dumped it in, Beagle headed to the bench and Williams replaced him. Johansson retrieved the puck behind the net and passed to Kuznetsov, who fed an open Williams in the slot for a quick shot between goaltender Frederik Andersen's pads.

"I wasn't quite sure it went in," Williams said. "But I saw Johansson with his arms in the air and he was excited, so I figured something good happened."

It was the second overtime goal and the seventh game-winning goal in the playoffs of Williams' NHL career. 

"He's one of those guys that when everyone gets tense and everyone grabs their sticks a little tight, he gets more focused and finds ways to pull off the big play," Oshie said. "Obviously that's what we needed at that time and he stepped up for us."  

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