|Braden Holtby stones Tyler Bozak on a shorthanded breakaway.|
The Capitals got off to another slow start, taking a penalty barely a minute into the contest when Mike Knuble took a tripping minor to send the Maple Leafs to an early man advantage. The Leafs were unable to convert despite good pressure, however, and the Capitals were awarded a power play of their own right after Knuble was released from the box. The Capitals cranked up their own offensive pressure on the power play, but could not convert either and lazy play by the attacking team caused a 3 on 1 break the other way as the power play expired. But Holtby was there for his team, and bailed out the Caps with a brilliant save on Tyler Bozak. The teams continued some back and forth action for a bit before Nicklas Backstrom took a tripping penalty to give the hosts another power play. But the penalty killers were strong again, and the Leafs could not convert. About a minute after the penalty had ended, Nicklas Backstrom dug out puck in the corner and passed high to Jeff Schultz, who blasted a slapshot towards the cage, which Alex Ovechkin tipped past J-S Giguere to give the Caps a 1-0 cushion at the 14:27 mark. Both teams continued to try and generate offensive pressure as the period wore on, but neither could get anything really going. Backstrom took another penalty late in the frame, but nothing came of it and the teams headed to their dressing rooms with the Caps up 1-0.
In the second, the Leafs took an early penalty and the Caps began to attack with good puck movement on their man advantage. Just when they had Mike Green set up for the shot they wanted, Green whiffed and Tyler Bozak poked the puck free and streaked in on a shorthanded breakaway. But Holtby was up to the task once again with a sensational right pad save to keep the Caps advantage at 1. The Leafs then really cranked it up, applying constant pressure on the Caps, but the defense played well, keeping most shots to the outside until Phil Kessel snuck in and got a shot off in tight; it took another quick flash of Holtby's pad to keep the Leafs off the board with about 9 minutes left in the period. Both sides continued to generate good chances as the period contiuned, but the goaltenders played well, and the second period ended with the Caps still up 1-0.
In the third, it was the Capitals' turn to come out hard, as Alex Ovechkin scored his second of the night when he buried a loose puck in front to put the Caps up by 2 at the 1:12 mark. But the Leafs struck back immediately, and Tim Brent broke up Holtby's shutout with a nice snapshot in close to cut the deficit to 1. That goal brought the Air Canada Centre to life, and the Leafs had the Caps on their heels for the next five minutes as the defense and Holtby had to be heroic to keep Toronto from equalizing. Just after the 8 minute mark, however, Matt Hendricks stole the puck at the defensive blue line and skated in on his own breakaway, converting on a beautiful move for a 3-1 Capitals lead. But the Leafs would not go away, and decimated the Capitals down low for the remainder of the period, pressing Holtby to make several excellent saves once more. Ron Wilson pulled his goaltender with 3 minutes remaining, desperate for a win, and the Leafs had the Caps pinned in their zone for most of those 3 minutes. But the Caps' rookie goaltender continued his excellent play, absolutely robbing Bozak again with a miraculous glove save at about the 19 minute mark. The Capitals finally won a defensive zone faceoff late in the frame, and Nicklas Backstrom sent the puck down the boards; Ovechkin chased the puck down and weaved through two Toronto defenders to pot the empty-netter. The goal was Ovie's 19th and completed his first hat trick since his miraculous performance against Pittsburgh last February. Holtby finished the game with 35 saves, and the Capitals defense blocked over 25 more.
Braden Holtby was simply sensational. He proved me wrong once again and single handedly won this game for his team tonight. He shook off the HNIC jitters and made great save after great save all over his crease for the Capitals. His glove save on Bozak, coming across the crease, has to be a candidate for save of the year. Holtby, right now, deserves the Capitals' nets, but it remains to be seen who receives the start on Monday.
Alex Ovechkin finally had the game we all know he is capable of. Three goals, plus-3, eight shots, and three blocked shots only begin to describe just how dominant the Great Eight was tonight. He was full of energy and all over the place, trademarks of the two-time MVP's game that we have seen precious little of this season. A big step in the right direction for the captain.
Mike Green had his best game in awhile. Greenie had an assist, was also plus-3, and blocked four shots in an excellent all-around performance the day after being named an alternate captain on team Staal for the All-Star Game. Green may not be scoring or gathering points at the frightening pace he has the last 2 seasons, but he is fine-tuning his game and his defensive progression has been a treat to watch this year.
The Caps will fly back to DC tonight and take tomorrow off as they prepare for Monday night's tilt with the Rangers at Verizon Center, their first meeting with the Blueshirts since that 7-0 shellacking in December in New York. Game time for that one is scheduled for 7 P.M.