And now, for something completely different. No, not the second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins that starts on Thursday. The Washington Capitals, heavily favored but given all they could handle by the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs, overcame a fair amount of adversity in Game 6 – a roaring Toronto crowd, a misaligned stanchion, another in what seems over the course of their history a series of “hot goaltenders – to tie the game in the last half of the third period, then score in the seventh minute of the first overtime to capture their first round series in six games over the Maple Leafs.
It was a tense evening for the cousins as the Caps once more tested the limits of their ability to stay calm and think good thoughts. But let’s let them wrap things up…
Fearless… If you were playing the overtime goal challenge, you might have picked a half-dozen players as the potential hero before settling on Marcus Johansson, and that’s just among the Caps’ players. Going into last night’s game, Johansson had seven goals in 61 career playoff games. He had never scored more than two goals in any postseason. It broke a nine-game streak without a postseason goal, dating back to Game 2 of last spring’s series against Pittsburgh. He scored on each of his only two shots of the contest last night. Oddly enough, it was the second time in his career that Johansson scored two goals in a playoff game, and both instances came on the road. The other instance was in Game 4 of the Caps’ 2011 series against the New York Rangers, a game in which Johansson scored two third period goals that, following a goal by Alexander Semin earlier in that period, wiped out a 3-0 Rangers lead before Jason Chimera won the game in double-overtime.
Cheerless… The Caps had the fifth-worst scoring defense in the first round (2.67 goals against per game). They four teams under them in the rankings? ...gone. And they won a grand total of three games among them (Toronto had two of them). Only two team allowed more shots on goal per game than the Caps (35.5). Strangely enough, both of them are alive – Pittsburgh (38.8) and St. Louis (36.4). And their faceoff winning percentage…woof! They are 15th of 16 teams in the playoffs at 46.0 percent. Hey, draws don’t matter, right? Well one, it’s attention to detail, and two…why would you dismiss possessing the puck for 10 or 15 seconds with every draw you win? Put a team on their heels, forcing them to defend more often than not from a faceoff, might have a cumulative effect, eh?
Feerless… Caps had the fourth-best special teams index (power play plus penalty killing rates) in the first round (118.5)…
Cheerless… The three teams ahead of them – Minnesota (129.7), Montreal (127.6), and Chicago (119.0) – are out. And only Boston had more minor penalties in the first round (26) than the Caps (25).
Cheerless… How close was this series? The Caps outscored Toronto 18-16. Washington was outshot, 213-211. The Caps had 25 penalties, Toronto had 24. The Maple Leafs were credited with 256 hits, the Caps had 241. Washington had the advantage in blocked shots, 127-116. And that was against the eight-seed. Did the Caps play down to Toronto’s level, or did the Leafs play up to the Caps’ level?
Fearless… The Caps scored more first period goals in the first round than any team (eight) and tied Ottawa for the most goals in overtime (three). Only Nashville (one) and Anaheim (none) allowed fewer third period goals than the Caps (three).
Fearless… Washington had have the fifth-best Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in the postseason so far (51.30 percent).
Cheerless… They were seventh in adjusted Corsi (50.42 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey), and they had the second-worst adjusted Corsi Against/60 minutes (66.26). Only Toronto was worse (67.39).
Cheerless… The Caps kinda dodged a bullet getting as little output from Andre Burakovsky (two assists) even while he had pretty good possession numbers (best individual Corsi-for on the club at 5-on-5: 59.69 percent). And one of the problems the Caps had last spring – a lack of bottom-six production – showed up in this series. The five forwards not named “Wilson” finished with no goals and four assists. The fourth line that finished the series (Brett Connolly for Tom Wilson) didn’t have a point in the series.
Fearless… At the other end, the top-six did their share. The top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie accounted for eight goals, three of them on the power play. The second line of Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Justin Williams accounted for six goals. And every defenseman, save for Karl Alzner, who was limited to two games due to injury, recorded at least one point.
Peerless… The knee-jerk reaction to a series like the one just ended would be to say that the Caps underachieved. That does not give due credit to the Maple Leafs for the strides they took this season, especially over the last six weeks of the regular season in which their record and that of the Caps were virtually identical.
In its own perverse way, Toronto might have been the best team for the Caps to face in the first round, even if things ended up closer than anyone might have expected, or wanted, for that matter. Toronto’s strength at forward and team speed is as close an approximation as one is going to find in the East to what awaits the Caps in the second round against Pittsburgh. If anything, the Penguins’ defense might be more vulnerable to exploitation, but the experience, not to mention the skill among their forwards will be formidable. But for now, let’s just be thankful for a first round win. And for Caps fans who might say, “so what, it’s just the first round,” remember… you can’t win four if you don’t win one.