By: Josh Cohen, GZ Sports Report Contributor
With one game in the books for a Washington team that once again is attempting to bring their first cup to the nation’s capital, we got our first glimpse of what this year’s Caps team is going to look like down the stretch. In round one, the Caps are taking on a young Toronto team that just snuck into the playoffs with a strong late season push. The Leafs are young and riding a wave of momentum thanks to the impressive performance of rookie Austin Matthews and the fact that the Leafs made the playoffs for only the second time in twelve seasons. Toronto may be riding their own wave of momentum, but so are the boys in Washington. The Caps just capped off their 55-19-8 season, winning their second presidents trophy in a row. What makes this matchup so interesting is the storyline of a Capitals team full of experience who haven’t been able to crack the conference final against a young Toronto team with nothing to lose. Game 1 brought us some surprises and glimpses into how the next 3 to 6 games will play out. Here’s what we learned from Washington’s 3-2 overtime win:
- This series will not be a walk in the park for the Caps. The Leafs jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead early in the first with rookie center, Mitchell Marner, putting one up on the board less than 2 minutes in and Jake Gardiner tallying one about halfway through the first period. The Caps were fighting an uphill battle from that point on. They got their wake up call Thursday night and realized Toronto is more than just a young team who squeaked into the playoffs; this is a team that is hungry. The Capitals learned quickly that this series won’t be as easy as expected.
- Role players will have a big part in this series. We saw “Mr. Game 7” Justin Williams turn into “Mr. Game 1”, as he stepped up for the Caps Thursday night. Williams scored both of Washington’s regulation goals, one coming on the power play in the first and the second coming four minutes into the second period. And then it happened. Five minutes and fifteen seconds into overtime, Tom Wilson nets one of the best shots we’ve seen all year to complete the Caps’ comeback in OT. The Caps’ role players have been built for this playoff push. Players like WIlliams, Wilson, Beagle, and Burakovsky are the perfect compliment to star players like Ovechkin, Oshie, and Bäckström in Washington’s offense, who have struggled in recent playoff years.
- The first line needs to start producing or the Caps won’t be going very far. As great as role players are and as fun as it is to watch Tom Wilson net an OT game-winning goal, these guys can’t carry a team to a Cup. Coming off of his lowest points season since 2012, Alexander Ovechkin now has a chance to step up when it matters and make up for it. The Washington captain has struggled in past playoffs, averaging only 0.68 points per game in the last 2 playoffs combined. The Caps brought in T.J. Oshie from St. Louis last season for some extra offensive power and it’s time for the 30 year old American to make his mark here in this series. In Game 1, we saw excellent goaltending from Toronto netminder Frederik Andersen, who finished the game with a .932 save percentage and letting a great shot from Wilson to slip over with glove side shoulder to end the game. If Anderson continues to play at this level, the Caps’ star offensive players need to step up.
- This might finally be the Caps team to get it done. Despite the lack of starpower in Game 1, we saw that the depth of this Washington team is built for this playoff run. If the first line of Ovie-Backstrom-Oshie can start putting pucks in the net and 2016 Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby can hold firm in net, the Caps’ might finally make the run they’ve been built to make. We saw last night that the depth is there for a solid playoff run, but only time will tell if this Washington team will be able to break the curse and make it to a conference final for the first time since the ‘97-’98 season. All the pieces seem to be in place for the Capitals right now and Coach Barry Trotz seems to have his boys ready for a long playoff run, but as always with the Caps around playoff time, we can only take it one game at a time.