Adversity is staring the Washington Capitals dead in the face heading into Game 4.
The Washington Capitals lit the lamp in Toronto tonight in Game 3 within the first five minutes amidst goals from Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. However, Auston Matthews then scored on a fortuitous bounce minutes later. Evgeny Kuznetsov then responded with a goal of his own to put the Capitals ahead 3-1. The Toronto Maple Leafs got three unanswered goals including an overtime winner less than two minutes into the fourth frame of the contest. The Toronto Maple Leafs are now leading the Capitals 2-1 in a best of seven series.
There’s a reason the Stanley Cup Playoffs are considered the hardest in sports. It’s a recursive cycle of battering hits, painful shot blocks, close calls, tremendous saves and any other aspect of the game of hockey. You won’t hear any arguments refuting the Capitals as the superior hockey team, yet they are down 2-1 in the first round and facing a must-win situation on Wednesday night.
The Resiliency of Toronto
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Almost half the skaters on this Maple Leafs team are playing in their first playoff series. Their energy and fortitude put them in a position to shock the President’s Trophy winners. The Leafs are hungry, fast, physical and refuse to falter in the midst of tribulation. This was prevalent in Game 3, as Toronto came from behind to erase an early deficit and secure the first game at the Air Canada Centre.
There are plenty of cases where an underdog has not cowered before a heavily favored opponent, yet ultimately fell to their stronger counterpart. Not only has Toronto refused to shy away from the Capitals, they have also been swinging back even harder at times. The Capitals managed to storm back in Game 1 after the Maple Leafs took an early two-goal lead. However, aside from Game 1, Toronto has been a team possessed.
Give Holtby Some Help
Braden Holtby made some tremendous stops on Monday, including an incredible diving poke check to stave off what looked to be a sure-fire breakaway for Mitchell Marner at the midway point of the second period. 24 total saves for the Capitals netminder wasn’t enough. Holtby’s third-period brilliance is what perhaps saved Washington from being beaten in regulation. Of the 28 shots that reached Washington’s net, 24 were blocked.
Yet despite this, it has become abundantly clear as the series has progressed that Washington’s defense has to be even better if they want to make it out of the first round. Too many odd-man rushes and overwhelming speed from this young Leafs team has put Washington on its heels these first three games. Toronto’s huge advantage in puck possession towards the end of Game 3 was indicative of this.
Holtby is a very good goaltender. This is universally accepted at this point. The Capitals can’t forget he isn’t capable of doing everything himself. To his credit, no goalie is.
Finish Quality Chances
35 total scoring chances only resulted in three goals for Washington in Game 3. Near the end of regulation, Kuznetsov shot what would have conceivably been the game-winning goal off the post after catching Frederik Anderson down low. Washington’s inability to finish chances during the course of this series is a huge reason they find themselves down a game to Toronto. After Ovechkin and Backstrom quickly notched two goals, the Washington Capitals managed to find the back of the net only once thereafter.
These are the Stanley Cup playoffs. Every second is crucial. Not a single shift can be wasted by any player. Defense must be tight, and chances must be finished. The Washington Capitals’ shortcomings through the first three games of this series are why they trail Toronto 2-1.
Even so, this series, for all intents and purposes, is far from over. As mentioned by head coach, Barry Trotz, this team has dealt with adversity all season long. They often thrived off of it. That’s the most substantial difference between this team and squads in years past. Before you start to panic, just keep in mind that if any Capitals team is capable of winning a series after going down early, it is most certainly this one.