Leafs Deliver An Impressive 5-1 Victory Against The Capitals In John Tavares’ 1000th Game

Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty images
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty images

The Leafs held a very special pre-game ceremony prior to puck drop tonight as they honored their captain for reaching 1000 NHL games. Tavares was presented with a crystal and a silver stick given to every player who reaches the 1000-game milestone. As per usual, the Leafs did a fantastic job with the ceremony, pure class. 

Coming off of a terrible performance Friday night in a 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, the Leafs were looking to right the ship tonight against the Washington Capitals. Due to an apparent ankle injury suffered by goaltender Matt Murray, Ilya Samsonov got the start again in this one, and Joseph Woll, who was recalled on an emergency basis, was backing him up. After being moved up the lineup on Friday night and struggling, Also worth noting that T.J. Brodie returned to the lineup in this one after missing the past ten games with a rib injury. Pontus Holmberg found himself back on the fourth line tonight, which meant Alex Kerfoot was slated as the Leafs’ second-line center in this one. Just 30 seconds in, the Leafs gained entry into the offensive zone, and John Tavares went to work. He circled behind the Capitals’ net and then made a centering pass to Michael Bunting in the slot, but Bunting wasn’t able to capitalize. The first five minutes of the game were dominated by the Leafs, as they controlled the pace of the game and had the puck the majority of the time. The Capitals struck back with some scoring chances of their own. With 7:59 to go in the opening period, Mark Giordano was called for holding, and on the same play, Lars Eller was called for goaltending interference resulting in four on four. There was a lot of back and forth during the two minutes of four-on-four, but neither team could break through for the game’s first goal. With 3:45 to go in the opening frame, Alex Kerfoot was called for tripping T.J. Oshie. The Capitals managed to strike for the game’s first goal with the man advantage as Nik Backstrom fired it top corner past Samsonov to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. With 37 seconds to go, David Kampf found Joey Anderson all alone in front of the Capitals’ net, but unfortunately for Anderson, he missed a wide-open net; he couldn’t believe it. The final seconds would tick away in the opening period, and the Capitals would carry their 1-0 lead into the intermission. Shots on goal after 20 minutes were 10-7 in favor of the blue and white.

The Leafs received their first power play of the game in the opening minute of the second period as former Leaf Nic Aube-Kubel was called for tripping Rasmus Sandin. Of course, the top power-play unit, minus Auston Matthews, went to work, and Mitch Marner made a fantastic move to fake out Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Leafs then went to work as Marner let a shot go from the point that John Tavares tipped, and it found its way on Michael Bunting’s stick as a result, and he made no mistake tapping home his 15th of the year. Seconds after the game-tying goal, the Leafs were called for yet another penalty as Justin Holl was called for closing his hand on the puck, giving the Capitals their second power play of the game. Credit to the aggressiveness of the Leafs’ penalty kill as they were able to kill off the Capitals’ man advantage keeping it a 1-1 game. At exactly the seven-minute mark of the second period, Morgan Rielly finally scored his first goal of the year. It was Rielly’s first goal in 47 games! Given his reaction to the goal, you could almost feel the weight lifted off of his shoulders. Funny enough, yesterday, the Leafs held their annual Easter Seals skate, and some of the kids, as they were meeting Morgan, were asking him when was he going to score. He told them tomorrow night; he delivered on his word! Following the go-ahead goal from the Leafs, the Capitals came back with a dangerous shift of their own that forced Samsonov to come up with a very timely save to keep it a 2-1 game. There was a delayed penalty pending against the Capitals, but the Leafs went the other way with a three-on-one, which resulted in William Nylander banging home his 28th goal of the year to give the Leafs a 3-1 lead. This was Nylander’s 16th career game without Auston Matthews in the lineup, and that was his 10th goal during that span. After the Leafs took a 3-1 lead, the Capitals tried to respond by throwing their weight around in the offensive zone, laying several big hits against the Leafs. The third line of the blue and white went to work in the offensive zone cycling the puck, eventually resulting in Pierre Engvall ripping home his 10th of the year at the 14:20 mark to increase the Leafs’ lead to 4-1. That goal would be the end of Darcy Kuemper’s night as he was pulled, and Charlie Lindgren came in, in relief.

With 2:29 to go in the period, Rasmus Sandin was called for high-sticking Conor Sheary. It was not Sandin who did the high sticking; however, it was Sheary’s own teammate Nik Backstrom. Sheldon Keefe was not impressed with the call whatsoever, but the refs elected not to review the play, so the Capitals headed back to the power play as a result. The Leafs’ aggressive penalty kill went to work once again as they played keep away from the Capitals for over 30 seconds. As the penalty concluded, Engvall made an outstanding pass to find a streaking William Nylander, who deked to his backhand but Charlie Lindgren came up with an amazing save to keep it a 4-1 game. The second period would come to a close, and the Leafs would carry their 4-1 lead into the third and final frame of the game. Shots on goal in the second period were 13-12 in favor of the blue and white. They also held a 23-19 shot advantage after 40 minutes. 

Both teams traded chances back and forth in the opening minutes of the third period, and the game still had a fantastic pace to it despite the score being 4-1 in favor of the Leafs. With 13:23 remaining in regulation, Erik Gustavsson was called for hooking Pontus Holmberg, sending the Leafs to their second power play of the game. The Capitals did a fantastic job with the penalty kill, as they didn’t let the Leafs generate a single shot on goal. During the penalty kill Conor Sheary stepped into it and let a rocket of a slapshot fly that caught Samsonov in the mask and busted one of the straps on his helmet. The play would continue for another 70 seconds or so until the refs finally blew the whistle, allowing Samsonov to go to the Leafs’ bench to replace the broken strap. At the halfway mark of the final period, the fans in attendance were feeling pretty good about themselves as well as their team as they managed to keep the wave going for a solid three to five minutes. I personally am not a fan of the wave at all, but it was nice to see some life inside Scotiabank Arena. As the third period progressed, the Leafs did a fantastic job clogging up the neutral zone and not giving the Capitals much time or space to generate anything offensively. With six minutes to go, Marner’s speed and skill were fully displayed as he burst through the neutral zone to generate a two-on-one with Bunting. Marner managed to get the puck across to Bunting, who got the shot away, but he was turned aside by Lindgren. The Leafs’ third line, who was dangerous all night long, went to work again with less than five minutes to go as Engvall and Kampf worked a great give-and-go, but Kampf was unable to finish off what would have been an unbelievable goal. The Leafs’ fourth line built off of the previous shift of the third line, and Mark Giordano made a great outlet pass to Pontus Holmberg, who found a streaking Zach Aston-Reese, who showed off some skill as he went from his forehand to his backhand to beat Lindgren with his fifth of the year to increase the Leafs lead to 5-1. At 17:12, Wayne Simmonds was called for slashing Garnet Hathaway, giving the Capitals their fourth power play of the game. The Leafs held the Caps to just one shot on goal during the man advantage. There weren’t many shots from either team in the third period, as the Caps had a 5-4 advantage in that department. The Leafs held a 27-24 shot advantage overall. TOI leader for the blue and white in this one was T.J. Brodie, who played 21:15. 

Tonight’s Three Stars 

  1. John Tavares: 2 Assists 
  2. Morgan Rielly: 1 Goal 
  3. Ilya Samsonov: 23 Saves 

The Leafs have a couple of days off now as they aren’t back in action until Wednesday when they host their forever rivals, the Boston Bruins, to close out their five-game home stand before heading into the All-Star break! 

For more Leafs’ news and in-game tweets, follow me on Twitter @mikethefanatic! Also, be sure to check out The Leafs Late Night Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts!

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