1. Up 3-1 after their best start of the still-young series and a little back-and-forth, the Caps were gifted (or earned... it doesn’t matter) a full two-minute 5-on-3 advantage with a chance to essentially put the game away. Instead, they displayed a somewhat stunning lack of urgency and creativity and, perhaps most notably, accuracy - Kevin Shattenkirk was credited with three shots that missed the net (including one that largely lacked a goaltender), Alex Ovechkin missed another, and the Caps registered just two ~40-foot shots on net during the fruitless two minutes:
Was that where the Caps lost the game? Of course not. But it is where they didn’t win it. Just ask Matt Niskanen...
Did the game turn on the five-on-three?— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 18, 2017
Matt Niskanen: "Yes."
...or Mike Babcock:
Babcock on 5on3: "Game is over if they score. Then, of course, we take another penalty. We had lots of energy tonight, let's just say that"— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) April 18, 2017
The Caps got their only other power play of the game soon thereafter and couldn’t get much going on that advantage either, at which point you knew that the Leafs were “owed” some opportunities of their own (because NHL officiating is nothing if not predictable in that sense), and that they’d probably live to regret not making good on that golden opportunity. As we tweeted at the time...
Failed 5-on-3's are hockey's "walking the lead-off man" - seemingly always comes back to bite you in the ass.— Japers' Rink (@JapersRink) April 18, 2017
2. Sure enough, the Leafs tied the game up before the middle frame was even complete, setting up a potentially season-defining third period for the Stanley Cup hopeful Caps. How’d they respond? How about four minor penalties (including Lars Eller’s high-stick that carried over into overtime before Tyler Bozak converted with the extra man to send Leaf fans home euphoric), a 28-9 shot-attempt deficit and more than 13 minutes of shot-less hockey to start the frame? Graphically, that trainwreck looked like this, via Natural Stat Trick:
That’s... not good. The Caps can talk about missed opportunities all they want, but the reality is that they still entered the third period tied and were extremely fortunate to make it to overtime. As we noted above, the Caps didn’t win the game in the middle of the second, but for all intents and purposes, they lost it in the third.
3. So are the Caps what apparent Tony Kornheiser disciple Ken Campbell says they are?
When championship calibre teams have a 3-1 lead and a 5-on-3, they end the game. When choking dogs are in that situation, they do not.— Ken Campbell (@THNKenCampbell) April 18, 2017
This young Leafs team is good. Very, very good. But it's not that good. #capsarechokingdogs— Ken Campbell (@THNKenCampbell) April 18, 2017
To answer that, we’ll yield the floor back to Niskanen:
On the narrative that the Caps always do this ... Niskanen: "Until we change the narrative, that's going to be the question."— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 18, 2017
Yep. It’s a fair question until it isn’t, and right now it is. Especially when, for example, a Caps team that has gone a League-best 81-6-7 during the regular season when leading after one period under Barry Trotz is just 3-2 in the same situation in the playoffs. Call it “killer instinct” or “closer mentality” or just call it a curse, but the Caps’ inability to hold leads when it matters is a thing... until it isn’t.
Or, to put it another way...
Alan May to the Junks: "This would be the biggest failure in, maybe, NHL history. This is absolutely horrible, what's going on right now."— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) April 18, 2017