Despite the discrepancy in the standings (and their respective plans after the end of the regular season), the Maple Leafs always seem to hang in there with the Caps at every turn - whether it's matching them goal for goal in an offensive duel or getting timely goaltending to keep Washington's offensive guns in check. And it's shown in the outcomes, with two of the previous three games between these two teams needing a shootout to decide the outcome.
And so it was again tonight, as the two teams were deadlocked at one after one, at two after two and trading shooters in the shootout...until finally Mike Knuble said it was enough, and ended it once and for all.
Ten more notes on the game:
- It's a common storyline that Alex Ovechkin loves playing in Canada, with some of his best performances coming on Canadian soil - and tonight was no different, as the captain put up a dominant performance at the Air Canada Centre. Seven shots, ten more that missed or were blocked, four hits, a power play goal and many a shift where he just seemed possessed add up to quite the night for the Ovi. And that was with a pretty good performance by Keith Aulie to keep him in check.
- That power play goal wasn't just any power play goal, either. It goes down in history as his 300th career goal, in his sixth season - a mark of efficiency for sure but also one that puts him into some pretty elite company (and makes him the sixth youngest player to hit the milestone overall). Congrats, Ovi!
- Incidentally, he probably could have had #301 and 302 (and 303 and 304 and...) had it not been for a great effort by Leafs' goalie James Reimer, who turned aside 39 of the 41 shots he faced tonight. Toronto's taken their lumps in net over the years, but this guy seems to be the real deal and was a well-deserved number one star on the night.
- As good as Reimer was, he looks even better when you consider the traffic the Caps were putting in front of him. When a shot came from the blue line, there was frequently someone (or a few someones) making life difficult for the Leafs' goalie and their defensemen...
- ...and sometimes it was Reimer's defensemen making life difficult for him, as was the case on the seemingly harmless shot John Erskine fired in the general direction of the net. Luke Schenn's never scored a goal so pretty...or at least his knee hasn't.
- The Caps did a great job of limiting shots on goal, and an even better job at generating them. Consider that Toronto had 49 shot attempts - shots on goal, missed shots and shots blocked combined. That's eight more than the Caps had just on net, with another 18 being blocked and 19 missing the target.
- The power play has been, to put it lightly, something of a sore spot this year. Part of the issue stems from how stagnant the power play can be at times - much easier for the penalty killers to stop if they know where the shots/passes are coming from. But that wasn't the case tonight, as the Caps found some fluidity with the man-advantage and really seemed to be moving the puck well. Lots of cycling, lots of getting shots on net, and lo and behold! A goal. Sure, it was a 5-on-3 goal, but we're past the point of being choosy.
- Joffrey Lupul's go-ahead goal in the second was the result of a nicely timed pass by Phil Kessel, but it was a missed assignment by Jeff Schultz that allowed the goal to happen. Schultz's inability to tie up Lupul's stick was just the costliest flub in a night that won't be on Double Nickel's personal highlight reel anytime soon.
- The Leafs were credited with a whopping 50 hits tonight. Truculence!!1 ...or perhaps a wee bit of hometown scoring.
- Hopefully it's not getting old to read this type of statement (it's certainly not getting old to write it): Marcus Johansson had a great game tonight. He's so shifty and stealthy out there that he's able to find space - and use his speed to take advantage of it - and as a result create some scoring chances. It really felt like he was going to get one tonight, but the hockey gods (and Reimer) say no. Still a good night for #90.
- The evening started out with Nicklas Backstrom centering a second line of Marco Sturm and Jason Arnott. By the end of the night it was back to the familiar trio of 8-19-22, and thank goodness. Bruce Boudreau's ongoing game of "Shuffle the Lines" is fun and all...but come on, you don't mess with a classic.
After a bit of a sloppy start and a few miscues, the Caps really settled it down tonight and got better defense, better goaltending and better offensive chances than they had at the outset. It wasn't the cleanest of wins - but it was a big one. A loss by the Lightning in Buffalo may have given the Caps their fourth straight Southeast Division title before the final horn even sounded but thanks to a Flyers' loss those two points earned tonight have vaulted the Caps into sole possession of first in the East. No tiebreakers necessary.
So two games left. Where do they end up? Who will they face in the second season? Are they ready for the playoffs? All questions that will have answers before you know it.