TORONTO (AP) Marcus Johansson came through to help the Washington Capitals get another big overtime win in a series that had five go games go beyond regulation.
Now they get to rest up for the defending champions.
Johansson stuffed his second goal of the game past Frederik Andersen at 6:31 of overtime, lifting the Capitals to a series-winning 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 6 on Sunday night.
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”They gave us everything they had, and we had to work hard for it and we had to stick with it for a long time,” Johansson said. ”This is the playoffs. It’s going to be tight. It’s never going to be an easy ride.”
Auston Matthews broke a scoreless tie with his fourth goal of the series for Toronto at 7:45 of the third, and Johansson tied it with less than 8 minutes to go.
Braden Holtby made 37 saves for the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals, who will next face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year in a series that begins in Washington on Thursday night.
”We’re ready,” Johansson said. ”We’re excited. We can’t wait to get going. We’ve worked hard for it. We’ve worked all year and all summer to get back into this position, and now we’re here.”
Andersen was sharp with 34 saves.
”Andersen was unbelievable, obviously, keeping them in the game,” the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin said. ”They scored on a lucky bounce … but after that we don’t panic, we stay focused, we stay the same, we stay on the same program that we want to do .We had pretty good chances after that and finally (Johansson) scored and tied it.”
It was a bitter end for the Maple Leafs, who made a 26-point leap in the standings during the regular season as they jumped from last place in the NHL to the postseason and then nearly beat the best team in hockey. All six games against of this series were decided by a goal.
”The loss is tough for sure,” Toronto’s Morgan Rielly said. ”But when we got in here and looked at one another (after the game), there’s a lot of pride that can be taken. This is just a step in the right direction. We’re going to continue to grow, continue to get better and see how far we can take it.”
Toronto had the best chances in an opening period where few existed. William Nylander had the two finest looks, both coming off strong work along the boards and down low by fellow rookie Zach Hyman. The Capitals had their best chance in the final minute of the first when Ovechkin fired a shot that Andersen struggled initially to locate.
Starting his 34th career playoff game, Andersen settled into truly fine form in the second. He stopped Evgeny Kuznetsov in tight moments into the period and then made his sharpest stop, to that point, with just under 10 minutes gone when he stuck a left pad out on Justin Williams’ shot on an odd-man rush.
Jake Gardiner nearly scored for the Leafs a few minutes earlier, but his blast from the point pinged off the crossbar.
From there it was more Andersen.
He stopped Kuznetsov again on a dangerous look and then Andre Burakovsky in the high slot as chants of ”Freddy” came from a towel-waving Air Canada Centre crowd.
The Leafs actually outshot the Caps 14-11 in the second (and 38-36 overall), but the scariest chances came from the Capitals by the end of a scoreless 40 minutes.
Toronto went long stretches without testing Holtby until Morgan Rielly dumped a puck into the right corner. Instead of wheeling around the boards, the puck bounced awkwardly into the slot where it was chased down by the 19-year-old Matthews, who roofed a shot into the top right corner for the 1-0 lead.
Matthews joined Wendel Clark as the second teenager ever to score a goal in four straight playoff games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Matthews, who went pointless in the first two games of the series, was the first player picked No. 1 overall by the Leafs since Clark in 1985.
Johansson tied it about five minutes later, the sequence starting with a pass by Martin Marincin that went astray in the neutral zone. The puck found its way to the Capitals’ winger, who fought off Kasperi Kapanen’s pursuits before beating Andersen short-side.
”You just saw a little opening over his pad,” Johansson said. ”It hit his pad and then something else before it went in. … He’s a big, good goalie. It’s not easy to score, and you have to sometimes find those maybe different kind of shots on goal to get the puck in the net. I’m just happy they went in.”
The Leafs had a nervous moment with 72 seconds left in regulation when Nikita Zaitsev inadvertently bumped Andersen in the head. Andersen was forced to leave two starts late in the regular season after taking hits to the head, but he remained in the game.