Two days after a back-and-forth affair that may have been the most thrilling game of the 2017 playoffs so far, the Maple Leafs are back at the ACC with a chance to take an unexpected series lead on home ice.
The early part of Saturday’s game was filled with minor penalties, with neither team registering a 5v5 shot until just over 9 minutes in. Most of the calls were thoroughly debated, with Komarov’s hold against Ovechkin and William’s interference call against Reilly, in particular, causing uproar among the fan bases.
Outside of the latter half of the first period, the Leafs kept up with the Capitals, chances and shots wise. James van Riemsdyk’s goal late in the first period was huge, as it came after a heavy stretch of play by the Caps that had the puck in the Leafs end for extended stretches.
The third period certainly went Washington’s way, as did most of the first overtime. Despite Washington’s solid play, and a particularly dominant shift by the Ovechkin line plus the Orlov-Niskanen pairing that led to the first even-strength goal of the series for the Washington top line, the Leafs’ undermanned blue line got herculean efforts from Rielly and Gardiner and their deep attack ended up earning them the win in the most exciting and sweat-inducing Leaf game in recent memory.
What to Expect
Big news, just in: Nikita Zaitsev will play in Game 3, providing a much-needed boost to a right-side of the Leafs defence that just lost Roman Polak. It wasn’t certain that he would even be back at any point in the series, but an intense on-ice workout yesterday seemed to go over well and he took part in the morning skate today. All year, whatever pairing Zaitsev has been on the right side of has taken the hard matchup against opposing top lines. This will more than likely be the case at home tonight, with Zaitsev playing alongside Gardiner, just as he was in the late stages of the regular season.
It will be interesting to monitor if Zaitsev will return to his normal duties on the power play in his first game back. In his absence, Rielly not only scored with the extra man, he adds another bullet for the Leafs PP zone entries, which is an area where they’ve struggled a little bit in the early parts of the series.
On the Capitals’ side, Barry Trotz briefly mentioned that he may be looking to change up his lines a bit on the road:
Trotz: "Maybe we may tweak something." Before Caps go to Toronto and Babcock controls matchups, Caps might have lineup changes.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 16, 2017
The Capitals’ forwards lines have remained relatively consistent throughout the year, as they finished the season with the fewest man games lost to injury, so it would be difficult to imagine any drastic changes. What we could see is some small tweaking to account for not having last change on the road. The Capitals third line of Connolly – Eller – Burakovsky has been quiet, in particular.
Babcock now has home control over the matchups for the first time in the series and we’ll see how his approach changes. The Matthews line had a good Game 2 up against the Kuznetsov line in the run of play — generating some chances, and Matthews was impressively strong on the faceoff dot in the defensive zone as the game wore on — but the line is yet to break through offensively in this series. Babcock should be able to spot them a few offensive zone looks against the Capitals’ secondary lines.
Riding in off the high of a double-OT victory, the Leafs will look to keep playing the high-paced hockey that has given the Capitals everything they can handle in the first two legs of the series while feeding off of a highly-charged atmosphere in a city that now has reason to believe. The Leafs have landed their first punch on the President’s Trophy winners. Now we find out how both sides respond.
Mike Babcock on the return of Nikita Zaitsev:
It’s a huge boost… He’s been a real good player for us all year. He’s ultra-competitive, he moves the puck, good on the penalty kill and on the power play. He’s an important player for us.
Babcock on having last change at home:
I think it helps, but in some ways, you don’t want to get yourself in trouble by letting him run your bench. You want to do what’s good for you. It’s pretty apparent by how he sends his guys out for d-zone faceoffs and o-zone faceoffs who he wants to play where. We have to look at that, but we also have to get our people on the ice so it’s the best for our situation. We need some rhythm coming off of our bench. Sometimes you get too carried away and you get no rhythm. That’s no good, either.
Babcock on the series as a ‘best of five’:
It’s easy to look at it and say we were better last game. Now, what happens is two teams have an opportunity to respond. Often the team that didn’t like how it went for them is the team that digs in the hardest. It’s very important that we understand that we have to elevate and get to another level and set the ante here tonight because last game doesn’t matter anymore. It’s best-of-five now.
Babcock on the Matthews line:
I thought him and Nylander and Hyman were real dangerous last game, and they had some good looks. What I found coaching good teams that sometimes in the first round you look at the stars and they have no points. Then they get seven in the next round, and 14 in the next round, and you never remember the first round. That’s what depth is all about — picking one another up. You have to be able to play well without the puck because you never have the puck.
Washington Capitals Projected Lineups
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Andre Burakovsky
Daniel Winnik – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Kevin Shattenkirk
Starter: Braden Holtby (1-1, .932 SV%)
Backup: Philipp Grubauer
Game-time Decision: Karl Alzner
Scratched: Taylor Chorney, Paul Carey, Nate Schmidt
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
Leo Komarov – Nazem Kadri – Connor Brown
James Van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews -William Nylander
Matt Martin – Brian Boyle – Kasperi Kapanen
Jake Gardiner – Nikita Zaitsev
Morgan Rielly – Matt Hunwick
Martin Marincin – Connor Carrick
Starter: Fredrik Andersen (1-1, .936 SV%)
Backup: Curtis McElhinney
Injured: Eric Fehr, Nikita Soshnikov, Roman Polak
Scratched: Josh Leivo, Alexey Marchenko