TORONTO — The Washington Capitals were giving full credit to the Toronto Maple Leafs after eliminating them from the Stanley Cup playoffs on Sunday night.
Marcus Johansson scored twice, including the overtime winner at 6:31 of the extra period, helping the Capitals defeat Toronto 2-1 and win the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final 4-2.
"This is a tough fought series. It's a lot of credit to them, they gave us everything they had," said Johansson, who finished with two goals and three assists in the six games. "We had to work hard for it, and had to stick with it for a long time and that shows character in our group.
"This is the playoffs, it's going to be tight, (and) it's never going to be an easy ride. I think it's good for us that we got a start where everything didn't just go smoothly."
Johansson got two cracks at a rebound off Justin Williams' shot to beat Frederik Andersen for the overtime winner. He tied the game 1-1 at 12:51 of the third when his shot deflected off Andersen and in.
"We just wanted to get control of the puck on the face off," Johansson said of the winner. "They had to stay out there and (Evgeny Kuznetsov) did a great job winning it and found me going to the back side and just got lucky to get a stick on it and get the rebound in."
Entering the series, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals were expected to handle Toronto with ease in their first round matchup. The Maple Leafs squeezed into the playoffs as the second wild-card team in the Eastern Conference and finished 23 points behind Washington.
"We were the favourites going in," said Capitals coach Barry Trotz. "That's something, mentally, you have to go through a little bit because every team is going, 'We've got nothing to lose' and we're on the other side going, 'We've got everything to lose.'
"That's hardened us too. We've handled that a lot better this year versus last year — that's where I like where our team is going in terms of the growth and finding the next level in maturity."
The Capitals now head home to the Verizon Center where they'll open the second round of the playoffs on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pittsburgh defeated Washington in the second round last year en route to a Stanley Cup victory.
In 2008-09, the only other playoff meeting between the two clubs since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin broke into the league, the Penguins defeated the Capitals in seven games.
"We're ready. We're excited. We can't wait to get going," said Johansson, who scored just one goal and was a minus-four in last year's series. "We worked hard for it, we worked all year and all summer to get back into this position so we're all excited and we just can't wait to get started."
Dhiren Mahiban, The Canadian Press