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Maple Leafs give city that's waited reason to believe

Toronto abuzz after OT win against Capitals puts underdogs up 2-1 in series

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The city had waited four years for this Stanley Cup Playoff party, and the Toronto Maple Leafs made sure all of their fans inside and outside Air Canada Centre went home happy Monday.

After twice trailing by two goals, the Maple Leafs rallied to defeat the Washington Capitals 4-3 in overtime in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round. Tyler Bozak scored the winning goal on a power-play redirection 1:37 into overtime, setting off a deafening celebration that carried over from the 19,861 in the building to the roughly 5,000 fans watching on the big screen outside in Maple Leaf Square.

"It's insane," said Toronto rookie center Auston Matthews, who had a goal and an assist for his first two NHL playoff points. "You look at the TV up on the Jumbotron and you see the Maple Leaf Square outside, that's something I've never seen before. It's pretty incredible."

 

[RELATED: Complete Maple Leafs vs. Capitals series coverage | Capitals have to shake same-old demons]

 

It had been four years since the Maple Leafs last qualified for the playoffs. Now, they've got an exciting young team that clearly isn't satisfied with simply being in the postseason.

Video: Leafs fan erupt as Toronto takes down the Caps in OT

With consecutive 4-3 overtime wins -- Game 2 took a second overtime -- they lead the best-of-7 series 2-1 with Game 4 here Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2, CSN-DC).

The Maple Leafs were supposed to be young, overwhelmed underdogs in this series against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals, but they've owned most of the big moments so far.

"We've always been confident in here," Bozak said. "We've always believed in ourselves. It's never bad to be in an underdog position. There's a little less pressure, but we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform and we believe in ourselves in here, and that's the most important thing."

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm3: Bozak pots overtime winner

The Capitals, who won 3-2 in overtime in Game 1, have to be wondering what they have to do to shake the Maple Leafs. They scored on their first two shots on goal to grab a 2-0 lead 4:49 into the game. Then, they led 3-1 in the second period but couldn't put the Maple Leafs away.

Toronto hasn't let Washington dictate the style of play other than occasional brief stretches. Mostly, it's been played at the frantic pace that favors the young Maple Leafs with their speed and talent.

The Capitals were supposed to be the more physical team, but the Maple Leafs also outplayed them in that area Monday, outhitting them 42-31.

"I think that's what the playoffs are all about," said center Nazem Kadri, who had a tour de force game with a goal, an assist and six hits. "You've got to increase your physical play. They're a big, strong team. They're taking some liberties with our defensemen. Anytime you get the chance to bump a body, you should."

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm3: Matthews follows puck, beats Holtby

Kadri made sure to do that in Game 3. After the Maple Leafs fell behind 2-0, he was fuming on the bench. His line was burned on the Capitals' second goal, scored by Alex Ovechkin, and then he was knocked down by Ovechkin on his next shift.

"At that point in time, I had smoke coming out of my ears," Kadri said. "So I had to do something about it."

On his next shift, Kadri twice leveled Capitals defenseman Brook Orpik with a big hit. In between, linemate Leo Komarov crunched Ovechkin with a hit in the Maple Leafs end.

With the crowd roaring to life, Matthews hopped on to replace Kadri and knocked in a bouncing puck off the rush to cut the Capitals lead to 2-1 with 5:52 remaining in the first period.

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm3: Kadri delivers two big hits to Orpik

"They definitely shifted the momentum for us," Matthews said of Kadri and Komarov. "Those two have been great for us all series not just on the score sheet, but getting under the opponent's skin."

Despite Matthews' goal, the Maple Leafs fell behind by two again when Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on a rebound 5:39 into the second period. The Capitals had a chance to put the game away after that with a 5-on-3 power play for two minutes beginning at 6:52 of the second, but they managed two harmless shots on goal during it.

"The game is over if they score," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said.

After the Maple Leafs killed off a too many men penalty at 9:48 of the second, they took over. Kadri scored with 4:47 remaining in the period on a shot from the right point that deflected in off Orpik in front to get them within 3-2.

Rookie William Nylander tied it with 39.3 seconds left in the period after linemates Zach Hyman and Matthews won a battle behind the net for the puck with Orpik and Kevin Shattenkirk.

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm3: Nylander slips a rebound past Holtby

The third period was all Maple Leafs. They outshot the Capitals 9-3 and had a 28-9 advantage in shot attempts, but it took them until overtime to get the winning goal.

A high-sticking penalty on Capitals center Lars Eller with 15.7 seconds remaining in the third period gave them the power play. Bozak made it count by redirecting Kadri's pass from the left half-wall. 

"It was a good feeling," Bozak said. "I love the way we responded when we got down. I thought everyone played well and we can enjoy it tonight, but we've still got a lot of work to do. We're confident in here, so we've just got to stick to it."

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