The Washington Capitals’ strong performance in Game 4 of the first round series against the Maple Leafs was a long time coming. After going down 2-1 to the eighth seeded Leafs, it was the type of game that the Capitals really needed. Though the score was relatively close, it was Washington’s most dominant showing of the series to this point.
For the first time in the series, the game ended in regulation. Washington held on to a 5-4 victory and has evened the series at two – a series that was supposed to be over by the end of this game.
The night after the San Jose Sharks destroyed the Edmonton Oilers 7-0, the Capitals played an inspired 60 minutes something that had not occurred in the 2017 postseason. Much has been made about the playing time given to star forward Alexander Ovechkin in the series so far, and there is some merit to that; when Ovechkin is kept off of the score sheet, he has a tendency to get frustrated and can become a liability because of it.
Caps defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk summed it up nicely in a pregame interview, “They are able to keep those pucks alive, and once we’re losing one, two guys into battles, that’s when they have that time and space to make plays happen. If we just come back to the net front, stop, let the one-on-one happen, we’re going to be fine.”
Shattenkirk’s assessment is incredibly accurate. When the Capitals — and especially Ovechkin — see a chance to make a hit in a battle, they take it, instead of staying in position to make a proper defensive play. In Game 4, the Capitals demonstrated much more patience, and it paid off in dividends.
The Maple Leafs gave the puck away nearly 30 times, whereas Washington only gave up the puck nine times. This disparity was by far the largest margin in the series, and is certainly the key to victory going forward.
In the regular season, the Capitals depended heavily on their top six, but Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie, haven’t taken over a playoff game until now. Ovechkin scored on the power play, and Oshie scored two even strength goals. Backstrom assisted on both.
While Washington’s top players were experiencing a resurgence, depth forward Tom Wilson was blowing up his hometown. The Ontario native had two goals, and one came mere moments after he made a game-changing save at the other end of the ice.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 19, 2017
Heading into the series, Leafs coach Mike Babcock dismissed the veteran forward, saying, “Nothing against Wils because he works hard and all that, but he’s not as big of concern as lot of people on their team.”
‘Wils’ has been a nightmare for the Leafs. After scoring the game winner in the first match of the playoffs, Wilson’s three even strength goals lead all scorers in the series. Though it was Oshie who scored the game winning goal, it was Wilson’s back-to-back tallies, less than two and a half minutes apart that really sunk the Leafs. After Toronto had come back within one, Wilson’s two goals put necessary space between the Capitals and the Leafs, and gave Washington the cushion needed to play a calmer, more patient game.
The series will return to Washington for Game 5, where the Capitals will have the chance to really flex their muscle. Tied at two, it really is anyone’s series, and it certainly is Washington’s to lose. Whichever team is going to win needs to do it as soon as possible. The playoffs are a grueling marathon and the longer this very physical series goes, the worse off the winner will be heading into the second round.