Here are the best and worst moments from the Capitals’ 5-4 win over the Maple Leafs in Game 4 of their first-round series in Toronto on Wednesday.
Best exhale: The Presidents’ Trophy doesn’t mean much once the playoffs begin, but it does mean the Capitals will have home-ice advantage for as long as they’re in this thing. The series shifts back to D.C. tied at two games apiece, and it’s now a best-of-three with two games at Verizon Center.
Worst penalties: The Capitals had a 4-2 lead with five seconds remaining in the third period when Lars Eller was whistled for delay of game. Two seconds later, Brooks Orpik was called for slashing. The Maple Leafs had a five-on-three advantage for nearly two minutes to start the third period, which sounds like the makings of a scene from “Capitals Playoff Hockey: A Horror Story.” (That’s not a real movie, but it could be.)
Best penalty kill: The Maple Leafs managed five shots with the two-man advantage to start the third period, including two from point-blank range, but Braden Holtby and the Capitals’ PK unit did the job to maintain Washington’s two-goal lead.
Best change: Looking to jump-start his offense, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz moved Game 1 hero Tom Wilson up to the third line with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky and bumped third-line winger Brett Connolly down to the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik. It was a stroke of genius.
Best shift: Seconds after diving to knock away a puck that trickled behind Braden Holtby and perilously close to the goal line, Wilson crashed the other net on Washington’s ensuing breakout and deflected a shot past Frederik Andersen to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead at the 13:41 mark of the first period. We’re not exaggerating when we say this was the best shift ever.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 19, 2017
Best story: Wilson, an Ontario native who grew up playing at a rink a few miles north of Air Canada Centre, scored seven goals during the regular season, making him the only Capitals forward not to finish in double-digits. He would score agains less than three minutes later to extend Washington’s advantage to 4-1 and bring his team-leading playoff goal total to three.
Worst mistake: Maple Leafs Coach Mike Babcock probably wishes he could take this about Wilson back. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll probably reconsider just how big of a concern ‘Wils’ is before Game 5.
Babcock on Wilson: "Nothing against Wils because he works hard and all that, but he’s not as big of concern as lot of people on their team."
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 11, 2017
Best trivia: Wilson became the first Capitals player to score two goals in the first period of a playoff game since another guy not known for his offense — Matt Bradley, in 2009.
Worst washout: Nate Schmidt whistled a shot from the blue line past Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen 8:11 into the third period, which would’ve given the Capitals a 5-2 lead if it hadn’t been immediately nullified by referee Chris Lee for goalie interference. Capitals Coach Barry Trotz challenged the call, just as Maple Leafs Coach Mike Babcock successfully did in Game 1, but this time the replay review center upheld the “no goal” decision. CSN broadcasters Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin were convinced it was a good goal.
That was a "Shinny" call!
— Craig Laughlin (@Laughlin18) April 20, 2017
Worst dread: The goalie interference call loomed large when rookie sensation Auston Matthews buried a rebound off a shot by Matt Hunwick to cut the Capitals’ lead to one with eight minutes to play.
Auston Matthews scores his second goal of the playoffs and the Leafs are back in this game, 4-3 in the third period. pic.twitter.com/Rtj2hD3Clg
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) April 20, 2017
Best phew: The Air Canada Centre crowd was rocking after Matthews’s goal and belted out “Sweet Caroline” in unison during a subsequent stoppage in play. Less than a minute later, T.J. Oshie’s second goal of the game on an odd-man rush gave the Capitals a little breathing room that was so good, so good, so good.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 20, 2017
Worst stress: With 25.8 seconds to play and their goalie pulled, the Maple Leafs made things more interesting than they needed to be with goal by Game 3 hero Tyler Bozak, but the Capitals survived.
Best intermission reading: Six breathing exercises to relax in 10 minutes or less, including something called “skull shining breath.” Try it for Game 5. You’ll still have a few minutes to use the restroom and grab a beverage or four.
Best period: “That was a pretty perfect period, in my opinion,” CSN analyst Alan May said after the Capitals outshot Toronto 15-6 in the first 20 minutes and scored at least four goals in the first period of a playoff game for the first time since April 23, 1990. Washington went on to win that second-round game against the Rangers 7-1.
Worst puck luck: The Capitals killed off Toronto’s only power play in the first period, but Nicklas Backstrom put his team a man down with a penalty for holding the stick 4:35 into the second period. The Maple Leaf’s capitalized on the man-advantage, as James van Riemsdyk ripped a slapshot off of Dmitry Orlov’s skate and past Holtby to cut Washington’s lead to 4-2.
Dmitry Orlov does the Leafs a favour, deflecting James van Riemsdyk into the back of the net. 4-2. pic.twitter.com/nEzBQVxVlD
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) April 20, 2017
Best start: Toronto generated the first scoring chance a little more than a minute into Game 4, but it was the Capitals who scored the first goal. T.J. Oshie, who had four assists in the first three games of the series, lit the lamp at 2:58 for his first goal of the playoffs and a 1-0 Washington lead. That’s one way for a desperate team to calm the nerves and quiet the crowd on the road.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 19, 2017
Best deja vu: Just as he did Monday, Alex Ovechkin added to the Capitals’ early lead with a rocket a few minutes later. This one came on the power play at 4:34, which was a positive sign after Washington failed to score on three man-advantage opportunities on Monday. Another positive sign: The Capitals were outshooting the Leafs 9-1. Would this be the first blowout of the series? Hahahahaha. That was still to be determined.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 19, 2017
Worst narrative: Ovechkin doesn’t show up in the playoffs. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. The Capitals’ captain now has 85 points in 88 career playoff games, including 44 goals.
Worst lead in hockey: Two goals. Less than a minute later, Toronto’s Zach Hyman deflected a shot by Jake Gardiner past Holtby to cut the Capitals’ lead in half and reignite the Air Canada Centre crowd. Washington blew a couple of two-goal leads in Monday’s overtime loss.
Jake Gardiner's point shot is deflected by Zach Hyman and puts the Leafs back in it, 2-1 game. pic.twitter.com/1aSxnLMnhI
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) April 19, 2017
Best Maple Leafs fan: Dart Guy was at Game 4 as a guest of Q107 Toronto morning show host John Derringer.
— The Maz (@LeafsMaz20) April 19, 2017
Worst scare: Marcus Johansson took the age-old hockey axiom “crash the net” a little too far during the Capitals’ morning skate, when he accidentally barreled into teammate Braden Holtby. The Capitals’ goalie and the NHL’s career leader in playoff save percentage was slow to get up, but remained on the ice and said he was fine afterward. Phew.
— CSN Capitals (@CSNCapitals) April 19, 2017
Worst logging: When is 15:08 of ice time — Alex Ovechkin’s official total in Monday’s loss — not 15:08 of ice time? When the off-ice officials logs one of your shifts as five seconds long and it was actually closer to 45 seconds, as The Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan noted in her story about the hottest topic following Monday’s loss. Even factoring in that apparent error, Ovechkin would’ve finished with fewer than 16 minutes of ice time, his lowest total in a playoff game since 2012. “That’s on me to get him the ice time,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday. If you’ve got a stopwatch at home, you might want to keep it handy to keep those off-ice officials honest.
Best hope: The Capitals are only 3-5 all-time in Game 4s on the road when trailing a series 2-1, but they’ve won three of their last four games in that situation. (Yes, Washington lost Game 4 at Pittsburgh last season to fall behind 3-1 in their second-round series, but this is best hope, not worst despair, okay?)
Worst feeling: Were Capitals fans in springtime the inspiration for Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”? It’s unlikely, given that Munch painted his iconic work in 1893, a full 90 years before Capitals fans experienced their first taste of playoff heartbreak. Still, the Photoshop on the cover of Wednesday’s Express accurately captures the feelings of at least part of D.C.’s hockey fanbase entering Game 4.
— Express (@WaPoExpress) April 19, 2017
Game 4: Washington Capitals (1st place, 55-19-8, 118 points) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (wild card 2, 40-27-15, 95 points)
Date and time: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Location: Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Game 1 result: at Capitals 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)
Game 2 result: Maple Leafs 4, at Capitals 3 (2OT)
Game 3 result: at Maple Leafs 4, Capitals 3 (OT)
Regular season series: Capitals 2, Maple Leafs 1
Game 5: Friday in Washington, 7 p.m. (CSN)
Game 6 (if necessary): Sunday, April 23, in Toronto, TBD (TBD)
Game 7 (if necessary): Tuesday, April 25, in Washington, TBD (CSN)
Everything you need to know
>> As the top-seeded Capitals find themselves down two-games-to-one in this series, it’s secondary scoring that they’re again lacking. Toronto’s third and fourth lines have scored four goals while Washington’s has just one, an overtime winner by Tom Wilson. Before Game 4 at Air Canada Centre, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz has made a slight change to his bottom-six forward corps in hopes of sparking more scoring. Trotz put Tom Wilson with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky while bumping Brett Connolly to a fourth line with center Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik.
>> Something appears wrong with these Capitals now that they’ve reached the postseason. The team that won 50 games during the regular season to earn the playoffs top seed is suddenly on its heels against the No. 8 seed in the East. Three hockey experts were surveyed as to what they think is the problems are for Washington: Lack of speed, mistakes and matchups. “There’s no other way to say this, but the Leafs are making Washington look slow at times, ” Pierre LeBrun said.
>> Alex Ovechkin was credited with just 15:08 of ice time on Monday night, the second lowest in a playoff contest for his career. So, why did the team’s captain play so little in a crucial Game 3 on the road? “That’s on me to get him in the ice time,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “… It wasn’t based on play. I thought Ovi was playing terrific. It’s on me to get him a little more ice time, no question.”
>> As the Capitals head into Game 4, down two games to one, there are two camps assessing the Capitals’ predicament, writes Post columnist Barry Svrluga. One group believes the deficit can be overcome. The other camp says: “Holy $&%&#@, not again.” Whichever camp you call in, one thing is certain: The Capitals are not normal participants in playoff hockey. They have their history, and it colors every tense situation.
>> The Capitals now face a crossroads between champions and chokers, writes Post columnist Thomas Boswell. They trail 2-1. They play Wednesday night in Toronto. All year the Caps have yammered about how they want to win a Stanley Cup and that, without a doubt, they have the team character, depth of talent and lack of weaknesses to grab that Cup. Now they need to prove it.
>> Overall, the Caps have faced a 2-1 series deficit 15 times in their history. They are 7-8 in the Game 4’s that followed (4-3 at home, 3-5 on the road). And so we dug deep into the team’s media guide to search for glimmers of hope anywhere we could find them. At best, it’s a mixed bag. At worst … well, no one needs a worst-case-scenario explainer for the Caps.
>> If you’re a Capitals fan who feels like you’ve seen this horror film too many times before, well, that’s because you have, at least relative to fans of other NHL teams. Since Alex Ovechkin made his postseason debut in 2007-08, the Capitals have lost 17 of their 87 playoff games in overtime, which is more than any other team during that span.
>> Not great news: Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner will not play in Game 4 because of an undisclosed upper-body injury, Coach Barry Trotz said. Alzner also missed Monday night’s game, a 4-3 overtime loss, and he didn’t skate during the team’s optional practice on Tuesday afternoon.
>> It’s surprising to see a wild-card team get the series lead against the NHL’s best team from the regular season, but there’s a pretty clear cause for Washington’s deficit in the series. Through three games, the Capitals have done a very poor job of limiting Toronto’s scoring chances, especially from the high-danger areas like the slot and near the crease. That is a huge change from the regular season and one that is helping an already potent Maple Leafs offense look even more deadly.
>> “I think the way this is being coached by Mike Babcock right now, I’d say Mike Babcock is running the Capitals’ show right now, he’s changing their players when you look at what’s going on with the line deployments,” said Comcast SportsNet analyst Alan May. “Alexander Ovechkin only had 15 minutes last night. I thought Alexander Ovechkin was flying, and he needed to be on the ice with Oshie and Backstrom a lot more five-on-five.”
>> Make no mistake: The Maple Leafs shattered the Capitals in Game 3 — with Auston Matthews and Co. finally breaking through — but Washington also hurt itself, squandering power play opportunities and a pair of two-goal leads.
>> For a Washington team that has been defined by its early postseason exits, how does it defend against that doubt creeping in now, a top seed trailing the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card team with the next game on the road? “Until we change the narrative, that’s going to be the question,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “It’s up to us to change it. You can’t talk about it. You just have to go and do it.”
>> It might not feel like it now, but Game 3 did have some good moments. One was absolutely incredible: Braden Holtby charging out of goal to make a mind-boggling, diving save. Catch up with all the highlights and, yes, lowlights with our best and worst analysis.
>> Welcome home, kid. Welcome home. “It’s convenient,” said Tom Wilson’s father. That’s about the best you can say about this situation, one in which a kid who grew up playing at a rink five miles north of Air Canada Centre is trying to beat his hometown team in that very building in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
>> “Can we talk people off the ledge?” host Jill Sorenson asked early in Comcast SportsNet’s Caps postgame show Monday night. Uh, good luck with that …
>> On a lighter note, have you ever wondered why they’re called the Toronto Maple Leafs and not Maple Leaves? Yeah? Well, don’t worry: We asked around on your behalf.
>> “We’ve been chasing this series a little bit,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said after Saturday’s loss. To regain control, one tweak Trotz could make is swapping his top two centers, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, in an effort to jump start the top line while giving Toronto a different look.
>> The expectation was that the Capitals would have an easy time against the Maple Leafs, who didn’t clinch their postseason berth until the second-to-last game. But to Washington’s credit, it never underestimated the young, feisty Maple Leafs. “I think it’s exactly what we thought it would be coming in,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
>> A decade ago, before a trip to Washington carried all kinds of stakes and expectations, the empty, untouched ice made William Nylander feel like a professional hockey player. He was 11 years old then and his father, Michael Nylander, played for the Capitals. “You see those guys doing it. You look up to them, and you think they are so cool,” William Nylander said. “It made me want to get there, and it also made me think it was possible.” That ambition eventually led Nylander to the Maple Leafs, the team now pushing the top-seeded Capitals in the first round.
>> Maybe you need a distraction from the action on the ice? Meet the Toronto super fan who paints his face with a maple leaf, shaves the Stanley Cup into the top of the head and “GO LEAFS” into the back of his head, and dyes both that hair and the hair on his chin different shades of blue.
>> By the time the Caps won Game 1 in overtime on a top-shelf shot barely under the crossbar by their least likely sniping threat, Tom Wilson, The Post’s Tom Boswell muttered to himself, “Am I really ready for this?” It’s doubtful that he is, and it’s unlikely that many Washingtonians have any idea what we are all in for.
>> The Post’s Dan Steinberg argues that the Capitals actually deserve to win the Stanley Cup this year: “There’s not much more you can say about the most complete Capitals team we’ve ever seen. They had the most points in the NHL this season, the best goal differential, the fewest goals allowed, the most wins at home. They had the best goal differential in the first period, and the best goal differential in the third period. They had 59 points in their first 41 games, and 59 points in their last 41 games. They were the best hockey team out there, and it wasn’t that close.”
>> We all know the decade-long narrative for the Capitals: They’re a talented team that can’t get past the second round. Why is this year different? Here are five reasons to be optimistic about the team’s Stanley Cup chances, and because this is the Capitals, the five reasons to be pessimistic.
>> Meanwhile, Fancy Stats’ Neil Greenberg makes the case that, despite their reputation, the Capitals aren’t chokers in the playoffs: “The tendency is to set postseason expectations based on regular season performance, but history shows this to be a bit unfair. For example, only eight of the last 31 Presidents’ Trophy winners — awarded to the team with the best overall record during the regular season — have won the Stanley Cup. Just three others made the Stanley Cup Finals. In the NBA, by comparison, the team with the most wins has gone on to win a title 14 times in that same span, with two others making the NBA Finals.”
>> “I think this is the time for the Washington Capitals.” So says NBC analyst Eddie Olczyk, who is far from alone in his prediction. As for the Capitals’ Kevin Shattenkirk, he urges nervous fans to let go of the past and think happy thoughts: “I think not worrying about what happened in the past, it’s hard to do, but you need to push it out of your mind.”
>> Five years ago, goaltender Braden Holtby was a quirky curiosity who hadn’t yet endured the most discouraging developments of a young career. Entering these playoffs, Holtby is nothing short of a franchise backbone, a reason to have confidence rather than questions. There’s no overstating the importance of that development, writes Barry Svrluga.
>> The list of similarities between the Capitals and their first-round postseason adversary is short — Toronto is the youthful upstart team and Washington is the veteran one familiar with this stage. But nine years ago, the Capitals were in the same position as these Maple Leafs, a young core making the playoffs for the first time.