Maple Leafs look to ramp up pressure on Capitals
TORONTO — The Washington Capitals appear to be feeling the pressure as they enter Game 3 of their first-round playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday at the Air Canada Centre.
The teams split overtime wins during the first two games in Washington.
Pressure has been a topic with the Capitals because of their recent playoff failures.
Washington also bears the weight of being the heavy favorites over the young Maple Leafs, many of whom have never experienced the Stanley Cup playoffs before.
The pressure the Capitals feel most right now, however, has to do with how well Toronto is playing, with the Leafs showing no signs of being intimidated by the situation despite their youth.
The Maple Leafs prevailed in the second overtime Saturday on the second goal of the game by right winger Kasperi Kapanen, who was playing his second NHL playoff game.
Toronto has trailed for fewer than four minutes in the series.
“We’ve been chasing this series a little bit,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s been a little bit of an uphill battle, so it’s been a test. But we’re going to Toronto, and we’ll see if we can do what they did to us.”
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after Saturday’s game, “Obviously, it’s a big win for our team. You go down two and then you’ve got to win four out of five. This now sets us up to go home, we’re going to get better and better in the series, obviously, as our confidence grows.
“We’ll get used to it. We got on our heels right away tonight. They made a penalty call right at the start of the game and they’re on the power play and I thought we were swimming for a bit. Then I thought we got playing pretty good.”
The Maple Leafs do have an injury problem. Defenseman Roman Polak was hurt Saturday, and Babcock said Polak is done for the season with a lower-body injury.
Polak landed awkwardly on his leg after taking a legal hit from Washington’s Brooks Orpik.
Toronto defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, out with an upper-body injury, could return.
“I don’t know 100 percent for sure,” Babcock said Sunday. “We’ll know more — guys are in right now and we’ll know more for sure after they’ve checked in. Obviously, (Alexey Marchenko) or Zaitsev will play and whichever one is in, that’s why you have eight and that’s why you acquire depth during the year.
“They all played a lot this year so I’m not very concerned that way. Obviously, a real unfortunate situation for Roman. He’s a good, good man, he’s a great teammate, plays hard, competes hard.”
Babcock was asked Sunday if the split in Washington puts pressure on the Capitals.
“What I’m trying to say to you is life is way easier when you don’t feel any tightness and everything is going good and you tic-tac-toe,” Babcock said. “Sometimes when you get ahead in the games you zip the puck around and it looks like the other team is standing still. If you can keep it tight against a high-octane team like that, the puck doesn’t move the same and the game is tighter for them.
“What I tried to say to you before, I’ve lived both situations. I’ve lived where you’re the underdog and you’re not supposed to win and I’ve lived where you’re the best team in hockey and you’re supposed to win. They’re totally different. People can tell you they’re not, I’ve lived it. They’re different, believe me.”
Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen made 41 saves in Game 1 and 47 in Game 2.
“We’ve got to try to get in front of him a little more so he can’t see the puck,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “He’s been good, too. We’ve got to get in front of him a little more.”
Washington left winger Alex Ovechkin said, “Obviously, their goalie played well (Saturday). Same as the first game. It’s OK. Nobody says we’re going win 4-0 and move forward. It’s a battle. They’re a good team. We’re just going to play game by game, shift by shift, and going to do our best.”
Game 2 hero Kapanen was playing on Toronto’s fourth line with Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.
“Heroes are different every night usually in the playoffs,” Capitals right winger Justin Williams said. “Sometimes, the guys who are a little bit more rested have a little bit more energy. It just goes to show you that in overtime in the playoffs, you need everybody and depth shows up. So we’ll get ready for Game 3.”