Tonight at the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Maple Leafs will try to force a Game 7 while the Washington Capitals will attempt to close out just their sixth win in 21 elimination opportunities during the Alex Ovechkin era.
Game 5 was another addition to the number of evenly-matched overtime games that have characterized the running narrative in this series. It was also yet another game where neither team carried a definitive edge at 5v5, with shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances all finishing in just about a dead heat.
The relatively even five-on-five play throughout the series has resulted in more attention focused on the special teams battle. The Leafs were overmatched in that area on Friday. Kevin Shattenkirk and Nick Backstrom broke down the Leafs PKers, setting up TJ Oshie for the 1-0 goal on the power play, while jumbled zone entries combined with great PK work by Washington led to an 0 for 4 night for the Toronto power play.
The game ended on another overtime goal early into the first extra frame. Hunwick and Rielly were both got caught in deep and Auston Matthews was otherwise occupied, resulting in a wide-open Justin Williams banging home a quick snapshot from the slot. Toronto and Washington both have two overtime wins apiece in a series that has so far been decided on a razor’s edge.
What to Expect
Look for the Leafs to make minor modifications to their PP breakout tonight. While teams don’t usually make big tactical alterations during a playoff series, Washington looked like they figured out Toronto’s zone entries in Game 5. The Capitals did a great job of angling off the Leaf puck carriers and giving them little room to operate high in the zone upon entry (be it the winger on the wall or the point man). Whether it’s finding ways to skate the puck in deeper into the offensive zone or successfully executing soft chip-ins, the Leafs power play needs to find a way to better establish their set-up; they’re often highly productive when they do.
There were some changes with the Leafs‘ zone starts in Game 5 that were caused by more than just the loss of last change. The Matthews line, who have started in the offensive zone a lot in this series, took on slightly more difficult zone starts than usual. Most notably, the Bozak line was given its easiest deployment of the series, with both van Riemsdyk and Marner starting three-quarters of their faceoffs in the offensive zone. Mike Babcock is looking for ways to get that line going at even strength, and the Leafs head coach predicted yesterday that Marner (who he called a “big moment” player) will give the Leafs a “great game” tonight.
Also of interest is whether there is any carryover of the bad blood that surfaced in Friday’s matchup. Unsurprisingly, a Nazem Kadri hit started it all and led to a few battles throughout the rest of the game. Up until Game 5, the amount of chirping and roughing was somewhat subdued for a playoff series, but now we’ve got some rivalries to watch as the series closes out. Ovechkin and Kadri were the main attraction, but Martin, Wilson, and Komarov were also in the mix in Game 5.
The Leafs have started both home games atrociously so far this series, falling 0-2 down inside five minutes on both occasions. How they handle the pressure on home ice to start the game in an elimination scenario is obviously crucial tonight. Either way, we’re likely in for another high-paced, nerve-wracking game as the Leafs look to extend their Cinderella season and the Capitals look to put away the pesky underdogs.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on winning more faceoffs than in Game 5:
Last game, they dominated the faceoff circle in the neutral zone. You think it’s no big deal that you just lost a neutral-zone faceoff, but then you end up spending a tonne of time in your zone. If you want to have 35-second shifts, 10 seconds is off that faceoff loss and you’re digging it out trying to get it back. I think that would be an area we need to bear down on for sure. They’re either going to be on our D, or we’re going to be on their D. There is not a whole lot in between. Both teams are trying to clog up that neutral zone. I think that’s a priority for us for sure.
Babcock on the reduction in the Marner line’s minutes in Game 5:
The way I look at it is, when it’s your turn to go, if you’re going good, you go more. Their matchup, too, is just the way it’s gone so far. What you always try to do as a player is play the best you can so you earn more.
Babcock on the importance of a good start and the opportunity in front of the Leafs tonight:
I don’t think we’ve been as good at the start at home. I think that’s an important part for us. You’ve got to love the opportunity you have. You’ve earned this opportunity. You’re here. You want to play Game 7 in Washington. Come on. You want to. So, in order to do that, you’ve got to earn it. As Trotzy said, you’ve got to push us off the cliff. We’ve got to make sure they don’t. It’s that simple. If you’re not loving this today or enjoying it, you shouldn’t be in hockey.
Babcock on believing his team will force a Game 7:
[The Verizon Centre staff] were being nice to me on the way out, saying, “have a good year,” so I said, “I’ll see you in a couple days.” In my mind and in my heart, that’s what I know is going to happen.
Barry Trotz on his team’s strong starts at the ACC in the series:
I think we’re a team that knows they’re at home and there is pressure on them. There is some pressure at home because you want to do well in front of your fans. I think we knew if we could get them on their heels a little bit and get them thinking, we could have good starts here. But they’ve had good starts in our building. It’s the same.
When you’re on the road, you’re closer. You’re together. There are is no family or friends. All the people trying to help you win the series — they’re not around. I think your focus is really good and your energy is really good and your rest is really good. All of those things come together.
Trotz on his team’s history in elimination games and the challenge of closing out the Leafs:
We’ll talk about today, and you’ll keep bringing up the past. There is nothing that we can change other than the narrative with this group. It’s a big media thing. This group doesn’t really care about what’s happened in the past. They really care about what’s happening now. In the three years we’ve been here, last year we were really good in Game 6 against the Flyers. We played our best game. Tonight, the Maple Leafs are going to play their best game. I know we’re going to play our best game. If we are going to have success tonight, we are going to have to earn it. They are not going to give it to us. That’s the reality of this sport. You can do anything you want in life, but nothing gives you urgency until you have your back against the wall. You’re in the survival mode. Anybody that is in survival mode, when your back is against the wall, you become very, very resilient. I’m expecting a very, very resilient Toronto Maple Leafs team. They’ve proved it all year. They’ve proved it in this series. We have to be very, very good tonight.
Trotz on some of the Leafs players feeling they were able to get Ovechkin to lose focus in Game 5:
Go back to the tape and watch how he played. He didn’t look unfocused. He looked pretty driven. That is the greatness of Alex. You poke the bear, and he’s pretty driven. I thought he was very focused. That’s why I kept using him. He had that look in his eye. They can say what they want. He’s on his game right now and he’s going to be a force.
Morgan Rielly on whether Auston Matthews' four-goal debut changed anyone's view on him and what he'd be capable of in the NHL pic.twitter.com/pXYjCPPGwQ
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) April 23, 2017
Washington Capitals Projected Lineups
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
Andre Burakovsky – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Daniel Winnik – Jay Beagle – Brett Connolly
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Nate Schmidt – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Kevin Shattenkirk
Starter: Braden Holtby (3-2, .914 SV%)
Backup: Philipp Grubauer
Injured: Karl Alzner
Scratched: Taylor Chorney, Paul Carey
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
Leo Komarov – Nazem Kadri – Connor Brown
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
James Van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
Matt Martin – Brian Boyle – Kasperi Kapanen
Jake Gardiner – Nikita Zaitsev
Morgan Rielly – Matt Hunwick
Martin Marincin – Connor Carrick
Starter: Fredrik Andersen (2-3, .909 SV%)
Backup: Curtis McElhinney
Injured: Eric Fehr, Nikita Soshnikov, Roman Polak
Scratched: Josh Leivo, Alexey Marchenko