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Capitals need more from top line in Game 2

Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie must have bigger impact against Maple Leafs

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Eight seconds into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Thursday, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin went directly at Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Roman Polak and knocked him to the ice with a big hit.

It was Ovechkin doing what he often does, trying to set an early tone with his physical play. But other than that, it was a quiet night for the Capitals' top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. The Capitals were able to overcome an early two-goal deficit and win 3-2 in overtime, but they'll likely need more from their top line in Game 2 at Verizon Center on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, CSN-DC).

"They've got to be a little more impactful," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "They're big, big-time players, so as the series goes along they're going to have more impact. You see it in every series. When the game is on the line, they always are the guys that seem to step up. That's on every level. Game 1, they didn't have the impact that they probably wanted, but they will. They will have an impact on the series as they go along.

"They're too good of a line."

Trotz didn't want to be too hard on Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie, later saying, "We played one game. We won. So I think we're making too much of a big deal about nothing right now."

But as unit, they believe they, like the rest of the team, have a lot of room for improvement. Ovechkin and Oshie, who tied for Capitals' lead with 33 goals during the regular season, each had one shot on goal in Game 1. Backstrom, who finished fourth in the NHL during the regular season with 86 points (23 goals, 63 assists), had three shots on goal, but went 11-for-26 (42 percent) on faceoffs.

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Williams slams home Oshie's silky feed

Oshie was the only one of the three to get a point in Game 1, setting up Justin Williams' power-play goal that got the Capitals to within 2-1 12:24 into the first period.

"I think we can maybe be a little better with the puck and make sure we're helping each other out a little bit more and make sure we play good defensively, too," Backstrom said. "Usually good defense leads to offense. So we've got to be better all over the ice and that's what we're focused on."

It's often more difficult for top players to produce in the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of the increased defensive attention they get from opponents. Trotz began Game 1 with the intention of rolling four lines and not worrying about matchups.

Although as the home team coach Trotz had last line change before faceoffs, he allowed the Maple Leafs to match the line of Leo Komarov, Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown, along with the defense pair of Jake Gardiner and Polak, against Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie for much of the first half of the game. Ovechkin, Backsrom and Oshie ended up getting caught in their end on a sloppy shift that eventually led to Gardiner's goal, which increased the Maple Leafs' lead to 2-0 at 9:44 of the first period.

"I think it's more so us as a line can do a better job of staying closer together, supporting each other a little bit more," Oshie said. "There were times where we thought we were going to get the puck, so we'd spread out and we wouldn't quite have it and they were able to transition on us. So I expect us to have a lot better [Game 2]."

Trotz changed his approach in the second half of Game 1 to try to get Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie away from Kadri and company and it's likely he'll do similar in Game 2. But they believe they should be able to produce regardless of what line is matched against them.

Video: WSH@TBL: Oshie one-times Ovechkin's perfect dish

"Obviously, some lines are better defensively than others, but it doesn't matter to us," Oshie said. "Typically, we like going against the other team's top line. So whatever it plays out to be, whatever [Trotz] thinks, we're good to go."

"We're not focusing on who we're playing," Backstrom said. "We're thinking about our own game and how we have to be better and we'll go from there."

One area Trotz has stressed heading into Game 2 is physicality. Although the Capitals outhit the Maple Leafs 52-47 in Game 1, Trotz believes they need to be more physical and initiate more, particularly in the offensive end, which can wear down an opponent over a long playoff series.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen led the Capitals with seven hits in Game 1. Ovechkin's hit on Polak is one of three he had Thursday.

"You see it in every series," Trotz said. "You've got to take away time and space and you've got to fight for your space. You've got to fight for puck possession. You've got to fight for your zone time. You've got to fight for everything. So it's about the fight and the details in your game and the structure in your game and we've got another level than we had the other day. So let's play. We've got to drop the puck and play."

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