- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2017

TORONTO — With a chance to polish off the Toronto Maple Leafs and clinch the best-of-seven playoff series, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz delivered his by-now-famous message to his team before the game Sunday night.

“You get an opportunity to push someone off a cliff, you need to push them off if you can,” Trotz said.

Trotz told reporters he had an idea of who might do the pushing. He’d held a little meeting with the members of his second line, Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson, that morning to tell them that he thought that he felt the game was going to hinge on them. Kuznetsov and Williams had already scored in the series.

“Marcus was due,” Trotz said.

Sure enough, Johansson was the hero at Air Canada Centre Sunday. He tied the game in regulation, then won it for Washington, 2-1, in the fifth overtime in six games.



Johansson sent Toronto tumbling down yelling ‘Geronimo!’ and set the Capitals up for a second-round series, beginning Thursday, with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“If you want to score and you want to win, you have to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Johansson said. “Our line, I think we had a couple goals in the first game, but then after that, it’s been a little on and off. But as long as someone scores, I don’t think anyone in here really gives a damn about who does it.”

Pushing Toronto to the precipice hadn’t been easy, and the final shove was no different.

The Capitals, who, in the Alex Ovechkin era, were 1-5 in Game 6s where they led a series 3-2 and 5-15 in potential series-winners in playoff best-of-seven series entering the game, began overtime tied at one after trading goals in the third period.

Toronto’s rising star Auston Matthews broke the scoreless tie when he scooped up a favorable bounce off the glass on a dump-in and, with the short-range skill he has shown off several games in a row now, buried the puck at 7:45 in the third to the roaring delight of 19,740, including Justin Bieber.

“They scored on a lucky bounce and obviously when the puck goes to a player like Matthews he’s dangerous and he put it in,” Ovechkin said. “But after that we don’t panic, we stay focused, we stay the same, we stay on the same program that we want to do.”

Five minutes later Johanssen scored the equalizer, assisted by Lars Eller and Brooks Orpik.

“I just, for whatever reason I knew that if they could have a big game we could really win tonight,” Trotz said.

After the game, Capitals owner Ted Leonisis came into the locker room and gave Johansson an air-kiss on the cheek, Johansson’s reward for coming through in the only game of the series in which no goals were scored in the first two periods.

A tighter, defensive game would seem to favor the Capitals, but Washington was the team that seemed lucky to be even after two periods. Toronto controlled faceoffs, winning 64 percent of pucks in the circles.

Those wins created chances and forced Capitals goalie Braden Holtby to make 37 saves.

“He came up huge, and that’s what Braden Holtby does,” Trotz said. “I know early in the series he took some criticism and there were a lot of doubters out there. The only people that doubted him were the people on the outside.”

Toronto’s Frederik Andersen was excellent as well in a 34-save performance, but the most stunning was in the third period when he stopped Oshie one-on-one using his glove. Andersen was every bit Vezina finalist Holtby’s equal.

“Andersen was unbelievable, obviously, keeping them in the game,” Ovechkin said.

Yet again, as it has been in every game, the margin of victory was a single goal. These Leafs proved themselves through this tightest of series where the Capitals scored 18 goals to Toronto’s 16 and the Leafs outshot Washington 213-212.

Pittsburgh, the reigning champion with little left to prove, presents a steeper challenge. The first opponent may have been knocked into the abyss, but Washington is still on the climb.

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