WASHINGTON – The Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t hiding from the fact they squandered a glorious opportunity to land the first strike in their opening-round series with the Washington Capitals.
Goals from Mitch Marner and Jake Gardiner inside 10 minutes saw the rookie-laden Maple Leafs jump out to a surprise 2-0 lead on enemy ice. It had groans coming from the hometown crowd, who, perhaps a little jaded after all these seasons, had waited all year for this loaded Capitals roster to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, only to see them come out flat.
Being the inferior side, however, wouldn’t last long past the halfway point. The Capitals gradually showed their sway, assuming control of the run of play, erasing the deficit, and then winning in overtime on a goal from Tom Wilson.
Afterward, you couldn’t help but come away with the feeling that the Maple Leafs needed to have that one. Because it’s hard to imagine them having their way for such long stretches like they did Thursday night.
But this wasn’t one of those wasted opportunities and blown leads the Maple Leafs would soon like to forget. There were positives here. The Maple Leafs proved something to themselves, and established a reference point for success in the series.
“We want to come out strong,” Auston Matthews said, when asked about what the Maple Leafs want to duplicate from their fast start in Game 1. “Try to put them back on their heels, not let up, not let our foot off the gas. I think we showed we can be a pretty dangerous threat to them. We want to play a full sixty, or however long it takes.”
“I think our line, and the entire team, was able to create chances in the first (period),” fellow rookie William Nylander added. “We died off as the game went on. We want to build on what we had in the first.”
Both Matthews and Nylander acknowledged the importance of taking what few chances they do create, as they felt the time and space they usually have reduced in Game 1 – especially once the Capitals found their game. True to their analysis two days later, the Matthews line did have their moments early, only to be soundly out-chanced by the end of the game.
Matthews finished with just a single attempt at goal.
For them, and the entire team, it was a tale of two halves, imparting both affirmation and understanding. Matthews and Nylander know they can create chances in the postseason, and against such a quality opponent, but understand they must find that next level to sustain these opportunities.
The latter can’t be overstated, because the Maple leafs are expecting a far better performance from the Capitals from start to finish in Game 2.
“We feel that we can play better,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said, “but I bet Trotz is saying the same thing about his crew. So we have to play better than we did, and up more, because they are going to play better, too.
“All you had to do was watch the games last night. The intensity from Game 1 to Game 2 is different.
“Now you gotta up the ante.”