- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2017

TORONTO — The first two games between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs were won by unlikely heroes. On Monday night at the Air Canada Centre, however, the boldface names took over.

Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored for the Capitals in regulation, matched by Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri and William Nylander for the Leafs. Side-by-side, it looked like hockey’s present playing against its bright future.

The future, though, wasn’t expected to arrive so soon.

When forward Tyler Bozak scored the game-winner for the Leafs, who won 4-3 in overtime, he became the third member of his team to score his first career playoff goal in the contest. The other two to do so, Matthews and Nylander, are 19 and 20 years old and, in the playoffs for the first time, they have a 2-1 series lead on the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz acknowledged his veteran team has its hands full with the young Maple Leafs.

“We want to break some new ground just like the Leafs are trying to do. They’re trying to break through, we’ve got to break through,” Trotz said. “Our resolve is being tested.”

Game 2 opened with the Capitals jumping on the Leafs, just as they had promised. Washington built a two-goal lead in the first period off goals from Backstrom and Ovechkin. Backstrom’s goal after 2:43 came with forward Justin Williams and Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly in the box with matching minors, and was Washington’s first goal of the entire season scored four-on-four.

Backstrom was assisted by defenseman Nate Schmidt, who was in the lineup in place of Karl Alzner. Alzner is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and Trotz said he would probably be a game-time decision Wednesday.

Minutes after Backstrom’s goal, Ovechkin added on. Backstrom found him in his sweet spot and, with the release of an AK-47, Ovechkin fired, denying Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen even a second to react before the puck hit the net.

Braden Holtby stopped 24 pucks, but couldn’t seem to catch a break. Matthews got the Leafs on the board before the end of the first period, scoring off his own rebound, which clanged off of Schmidt’s vizor.

“They’re getting some breaks,” Trotz said. “They’re working hard, I don’t want to take anything away from them.”

The crowd, noticeably quiet after falling behind 2-0, was back in it after their golden boy scored, but Kuznetsov added to the Capitals‘ cushion with a lucky rebound of his own, scoring from a sharp angle after a puck bounced off the post 5:39 into the second period.

Kuznetsov’s goal gave Washington a 3-1 lead. Shortly after, the Capitals got a 5-on-3 opportunity when Toronto forward Matt Martin and defenseman Matt Hunwick were penalized after a fight with Tom Wilson. Had they scored, the game would have started to seem out of the Leafs‘ reach.

“We should have scored there, absolutely,” Backstrom said. “I think so. You’ve got to take advantage of that.”

Instead, Kadri made it a one-goal game again after 15:13 in the second. The Leafs gained confidence and had the momentum.

“If you talk to our guys, our guys are playing good hockey and they’re playing a good hockey team but you know, I think you gain a respect from yourself in the process and you start believing that maybe you can do this,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said.

With only 40 seconds left in the second period, Nylander got a wide-open look. Again, it was a second-chance. Holtby laid out to block his original shot, but the rebound went straight back to Nylander while defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Brooks Orpik were both caught up behind the net.

“I think we had three guys beyond the goal line, so that’s not a very good way to defend, especially the last minute of the period,” Orpik said.

The Capitals were stuck on the penalty kill for much of the third period. With only 15 seconds to go, center Lars Eller went to the box for high sticking. He was the fourth Capital to take a penalty in the period. Eller remained in the box for the start of overtime and never got a chance to leave before Bozak ended it.

“They’re capitalizing on their moments, we’re not,” Trotz said.

The Capitals have one more game in Toronto before they return to the Verizon Center Friday for a possible elimination game.

For the first time, they trail in the series.

This gang of infants is testing them to their limit, and the Capitals are starting to run out of time.

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