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The Capitals-Maple Leafs rivalry was born in the playoffs, and it’s about to get better

Toronto native Tom Wilson, left, helped eliminate the Maple Leafs in April. (Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
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For the first few years of Tom Wilson’s NHL career in Washington, the Toronto native returned home each summer in relative anonymity. But things changed after the Capitals eliminated the Maple Leafs in the first round of last year’s playoffs with Wilson scoring three goals, including an overtime game-winner.

“When I first got back, you’d walk into Home Depot or anywhere and you couldn’t hide,” he said.

“You’re kind of public enemy No. 1.”

Rivalries are born in the playoffs and last year’s series between the Capitals and Maple Leafs may have bred a good one.

The Capitals and Maple Leafs meet Tuesday night at Capital One Arena for the first time since Washington beat Toronto in six games in April. Five of the six games required overtime, tying an NHL single-series record.

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Although the Capitals lost six regulars from last year’s club, the rivalry should continue to grow with the Maple Leafs emerging as a contender in the East. Toronto will also take part in an outdoor game against the Caps on March 3 in Annapolis, which defenseman John Carlson said adds to the bad blood.

Carlson has been busy this season, skating a team-high 26 minutes per game. His ice time should remain high in the absence of Matt Niskanen, who is on long-term injured reserve with a hand injury. The Capitals gave up eight goals in Philadelphia in their first game without their No. 1 defenseman.

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Things don’t get any easier against the Maple Leafs (4-1-0), who entered Monday leading the NHL with 5.2 goals per game and ranked fourth with 37.4 shots per game. The Capitals (3-2-1) have allowed at least 36 shots on goal in four of their first six games after doing so just seven times in each of the previous three seasons.

The NHL’s reigning Rookie of the Year, Auston Matthews, whom Caps coach Barry Trotz compared to Mario Lemieux, leads Toronto with five goals and eight points in five games.