Capitals 2 Maple Leafs 1 (OT)
WASHINGTON (AP) — “Mr. Game 7” is the Washington Capitals’ new Mr. Game 5.
Justin Williams added to his legendary playoff status by scoring 64 seconds into overtime to give the Capitals a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night and a 3-2 lead in the tight first-round series.
The Presidents’ Trophy winners survived a scare when Alex Ovechkin went down in the first period and are a victory in Game 6 at Toronto on Sunday away from surviving this challenge from the Maple Leafs and advancing to the second round for a rematch with the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
After overtime was needed for the fourth time in five games, the Capitals had Williams to thank for another big goal.
“I haven’t scored that many big goals,” said Williams, who has 16 goals in 44 tries in Games 5-7 as his team improved to 26-18 in those situations. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
Williams took the pass from linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov, shot as hard as he could and beat Frederik Andersen for his second postseason overtime goal. The three-time Cup winner who earned the nickname “Mr. Game 7” for his seven goals and 7-0 record in Game 7s only knew it went in when Marcus Johansson raised his arms in the air.
“Mr. Game 7,” Ovechkin said of Williams. “It’s all it takes. One shot and we get the (series) lead. Right now we going back to play in Toronto and try to win there.”
Washington has the upper hand in the series that couldn’t possibly be any closer on the ice or by the numbers. The Capitals have 16 goals to the Maple Leafs’ 15, and the teams are tied at 175 shots apiece.
“It’s a good series. It’s a lot of fun,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. “These games are good. We’ve been in overtime four times. It’s a good competitive series.”
Williams missed on a couple of chances in front earlier in the game and had a quality opportunity to win it late in regulation. Now with three goals in the series, he didn’t miss his shot in overtime and was perhaps the least surprising goal scorer with the game on the line.
“The more important the game, the bigger Justin plays,” said T.J. Oshie, who scored a power-play goal in the first period for the Capitals. “He’s one of those guys that when everyone gets tense and everyone grabs their sticks a little tight, he gets more focused and finds ways to pull off the big play. Obviously, that’s what we needed at that time and he stepped up for us.”
Oshie stepped up and cashed in on the power play that came from Nazem Kadri’s hit on Ovechkin late in the first period. Ovechkin clutched his left knee, was down on the ice for several minutes and didn’t put weight on his left leg as he was helped off.
The crowd roared when Ovechkin stepped onto the ice for the start of the second period, and the 31-year-old captain crushed Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner into the boards on his first shift back. He said he wasn’t worried at all, felt no pain afterward and was glued to the TV in the locker room when Oshie scored.
“Just have a Coke and enjoy the match,” Ovechkin quipped. “I just needed a little break.”
Coach Barry Trotz said he was quite concerned, and there was considerable debate about whether Kadri’s low-bridge hip check should’ve been a five-minute major, no penalty at all or the two-minute minor for tripping that was actually called.
Beyond the drama of Kadri’s hit on Ovechkin, rookie of the year finalist Auston Matthews scored his third goal of the series and Andersen made 26 saves for the underdog Maple Leafs before Williams beat him for the game-winner.
One of the Capitals’ sayings for the playoffs is, “Own the big moments,” with that mantra on shirts that staff members wear around the locker room. No one does that more than Williams.
“There’s one of the reasons you love Justin Williams,” Trotz said. “He’s believes in winning. He’s a winner, plain and simple. His mindset just doesn’t think anything else, but winning. And I think that’s why he’s special that way.”
NOTES: Braden Holtby stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced, and Trotz called the reigning Vezina Trophy winner “zoned in.”… Capitals RW Tom Wilson was benched in the third period after taking his fourth minor penalty of the game. … Capitals D Karl Alzner missed his third consecutive game with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Alzner took part in the morning skate Friday and skated with several other teammates Thursday. Tight-lipped about the timeline, Trotz said Alzner is day to day.
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