Everyone knew the stakes going in. The Toronto Maple Leafs were in a must-win game against the Washington Capitals. They had home ice, they had their belief in themselves, and the only thing they could do was go for it. Win, and go to Washington. Lose, and wait to level up and try this boss fight again next year.
[20:00] Nicklas Backstrom vs Nazem Kadri to start the game.
One of those long stretch passes that don’t connect, and the Leafs open with an early icing.
Caps follow up with an offside, and everyone is nervous.
Up and down shift from the Auston Matthews line, and they are missing on some passes and takeaways, but remember when they used to get snowed in for ages against better teams?
FInally after some shift changes, Morgan Rielly impersonates William Nylander and gets a clean entry that results in Braden Holtby having to make a save.
Caps working on their third or fourth offside before the first five minutes is up.
Matthews line with a great offensive shift led by Nylander’s entry. And then the play moves the other way and we’re bowling for goalies when the Leafs player seemed to trip up the Caps player. Andersen looked fine.
Mitch Marner with a hit on Tom Wilson. Really, I could just watch that all night.
[15:00] Nikita Zaitsev with a sneaky sharp angle shot that almost made something happen as it trickled through Holtby’s legs. Good to see Z jumping up.
Matthews line playing great again, and Nylander has a clean look at Holtby, but it was too clean and he overthinks the shot. Holtby makes an easy save.
Nice long O-zone shift by the Tyler Bozak line with a lot of hard forechecking hits. They bang one off a post, but no goal yet.
Smooth feel to this game early on. There’s whistles, but it’s not the chaos of Game Five. This easy flow favours the Leafs.
[10:00] Bad pass to Kevin Shattenkirk ends up on Marner’s stick but Marner makes one of those passes to the open space, stands back, waits for Chucky to slide in, and shit, no Tkachuk on this team, right. It’s not so much rookie mistakes as arrogance, justifiable maybe, that he expects his linemates to be in the space he’s going to send the puck too.
The game is ramping up to nothing but hard hits and fast skating. The defence is all in for both teams and so much is happening at every second. This is a hell of game.
Backstrom line gets some time up close with Freddie Andersen, but nothing comes of it. Kadri line doesn’t always succeed at shutting that down.
[7:57] Swede on Swede crime as Marcus Johansson trips up Nylander and the Leafs need to have a decent power play.
It’s great! The best power play since 2016 or something. They control off the draw, move the puck with ease and nearly tip the puck in, and then there’s a Bozak highsticking call, and the really great 22 second power play is over.
Caps have a chance on the four-on-four, but Andersen easily has it. He is on his game.
Justin Williams with a toe, toe, toe drag and Andersen swats it out of the air like a kitten with a toy mouse.
The four-on-four and the very short Caps power play after is all end to end action that looks like three-on-three overtime.
Some chaos after as the wrong Leafs are out on the ice.
Fourth line shift with power, speed and a good Kasperi Kapanen shift.
Caps have a chance when Brett Connolly, who has barely played, leaves Connor Carrick in the ditch and gets in on Andersen. Andersen plays it right, but loses track of the puck. Nylander picks up the slack and carries the puck back up ice. This was the Caps best chance, and might get Connolly more icetime and Carrick less.
Backstrom line is getting in against the Leafs’ defence but a bouncing puck kept Alex Ovechkin from shooting.
Zach Hyman steals the puck at the offensive blueline and the Matthews line has another chance.
Boyle to Marincin off a O-Zone draw, and they have a chance on Marincin’s point shot. Holtby grabs it. He’s holding on to the puck a lot. Counting on the Leafs reputation for being bad at faceoffs and choosing to freeze the puck more?
Kappy is making magic on some good fourth line offensive shifts, and Matt Martin gets a point shot out of it.
Ovechkin is missing passes and having trouble controlling the puck—bad luck and bad timing on his part.
Bozak line has some good pressure to end the period on a high note.
What a period of hockey!
The Leafs dominated by the Corsi chart, particularly after a big push in the last third of the period. The heatmap shows that it was the Leafs getting in tight on Holtby. They are also wailing the puck in from the left point a lot, while that’s really all the Caps are doing.
Goals are what matters though. I’ve heard that somewhere before, and the score is 0-0.
[20:00] Backstrom vs Kadri again to start, and the start is good Leafs’ pressure. Everyone is nervous again, though, and making mistakes.
Evgeny Kuznetsov has a chance in tight, and Nylander makes a great defensive play to take the puck away from him and run off with it.
James van Riemsdyk has a chance in tight from his office.
Bozak has a chance.
There is a scramble in front of Andersen and it’s the Lars Eller line making something happen.
Andersen grabs the puck off a shot and holds it, and we can relax for a second and think about how the Backstrom line seems to be driving all the play for the Caps with only a few exceptions so far.
Kadri wins the D-zone faceoff, but loses the war for control. They get hemmed in a bit, until they break out with a three on two.
The Leafs fourth line is feasting on the Caps, which is great, but contrary to lore, your fourth line won’t win you the Cup.
Nylander in with a chance on the follow up to the fourth line shift.
[15:00] Uh oh. Great Matthews work on the boards leads to a Hyman chance that doesn’t go in, like most don’t. Memo to self: avoid Twitter.
End to end action leads to a Caps session in the Leafs zone.
Marner brings the puck in to the offensive zone with Kadri, and I like that combo even when it’s an accident. They get something going and Gardiner hits the post hard on a point shot.
Fast play, hard hits and point shots is how this game is going.
[10:00] The Eller line is up against Boyle when Matt Martin levels Shattenkirk. Eller is not really up to the Leafs fourth line. Neither is Shattenkirk.
Marincin with an almost brilliant pass to Marner that bounces out of the useful range.
Matthews has a chance at one end, and then Williams has a chance at the other end that needed two guys sliding to block it, and Andersen still had to make a save.
Under pressure the Leafs ice the puck, and off the faceoff in the Leafs zone the Leafs take a penalty. This is the first really bad scene in this game. The panic reaction to Williams’ chance wasn’t good and this penalty is worse.
The penalty kill is brilliant. Kapanen gets the puck and takes it in the Caps zone and keeps it there forever. It’s a work of art. It’s a work of the Marlies coaching staff, is what it is. So raise a glass to them if you enjoyed that.
The Caps are eroding the Leafs control, and more mistakes are creeping into the Leafs’ game. The Leafs play a high-risk game, if you want to see defenders who never make mistakes, watch the St. Louis Blues. If you can stay awake that is.
Kuznetsov is stoned on a breakaway by Andersen.
There is a lot more up and down action and then another Kuznetsov chance on Andersen. It’s not Backstrom, Ovechkin and Oshie getting all the chances anymore.
The up and down action starts to turn wild, and that does not favour the Leafs.
A great save by Andersen starts up a Freddie, Freddie chant from a very loud ACC crowd.
This period is now all the Williams and Kuznetsov duo.
Matt Martin with a breakaway chance! But he missed the net.
Zaitsev is flying all over the ice this period, covering for Hunwick, getting the puck up the ice. He’s been pinching and shooting and is much better than he was in Game 5.
Again, what a period of play. The Caps ate into the Leafs hold on the game, and the balance is being held more by Frederik Andersen than the forwards.
The flat-ish line shows you that the period was largely even. The scoring chances have drawn more even too. The Caps essentially won that period just by stemming the Leafs’ push.
And the score is still 0-0, so none of that matters. The third period is a whole new game.
[20:00] Oshie with a shot off of the transition game of the Caps and Andersen has the save.
More wrestling on the boards than fast skating, but the play is still moving up and down with incredible pace. Can they keep this up all night?
Andersen ices the puck.
Whatever was letting the Caps clog the neutral zone in Game Five is gone tonight. No one is having trouble getting through. It’s like a KHL game. No wonder Kuznetsov is having a good time.
[15:00] André Burakovsky has a good chance, and Andersen is just so in focus.
Ovechkin from his office, and Andersen makes the save.
Caps look like they’re trying to slow this down and hold onto the puck.
Rielly shoots the puck in on the right side and it makes a god-awful clank. It takes a weirdo bounce and it’s Auston Matthews coming up the slot, and that’s just not even difficult for him. So the puck is rolling. So it’s a weird bouncer. It’s Auston Matthews. It’s in the net. 1-0 Toronto, and the series is dead even in goals.
Are you not entertained?
The Go Leafs Go chant is extra impressive. Go Fans Go!
Kapanen flies in with a chance. As the play goes the other way Martin takes out Connolly.
Oh, so the crowd has a louder setting for the chanting! Who knew?
A big shift from Backstrom, Oshie and Ovechkin tests everyone on the Leafs, but Andersen passes for everyone.
This period isn’t even half over.
[10:00] Kadri’s line is playing tough. Komarov takes the puck and moves the play up ice. They are stepping up right when they need to be.
Marner banks the puck off the boards just a bit to aggressively for the speed of van Riemsdyk.
Marincin tries to pass the puck and it gets tied up in some skates and the Caps have it. They move it into the Leafs’ zone and Kapanen can’t get it away from Johansson, and he scores. The score is 1-1, and the game is back on the tightrope again.
Komarov with a great chance, and a great save by Holtby to keep it tied. Holtby is as into the zone as Andersen.
[5:00] Big Caps session of offensive pressure and Andersen comes up big.
The Leafs get a chance.
Hunwick with shot after shot.
Nylander dancing with the puck, and Matthews tries to stuff it in. Then Hyman had a near-wrap-around chance.
The crowd is wild, the action is wild, the game is on the line.
Caps with two good chances, and Andersen has it in hand. Zaitsev gets Andersen in the head a little with his knee, but everyone is fine.
Oshie and Kadri get into a tiff in the last minute of the game. They both go off.
Caps set up like it’s a power play, but the Leafs get the puck and run the clock down.
And where are we going? Overtime.
The Capitals took a little more control of the game in total shots in the third period, but as is often the case with the Leafs, the scoring chances were even, even when the shots favoured the other team.
The bench got shorter in the third period. Connor Carrick dropped off first just before the Capitals’ goal, and Martin Marincin did not play after the goal. It will be a surprise if they take the ice in overtime.
The only appearance by the fourth line after the Capitals’ goal was one faceoff taken by Boyle.
[20:00] Four-on-four to start. Zaitsev and Bozak with some near chances. Schmidt with the best chance for the Caps.
Caps ice the puck and the Leafs have an offensive draw and the Matthews line comes out.
The play is tense and lacking in flow, and eventually after some shift changes, the Backstrom line gets some more zone time, but Oshie is behind the play and nothing comes of it. The Capitals are dominating more in the overtime.
And now dear reader, we will pause this frenetic game, stop it dead and chat for a minute. This is the best game the Leafs, the modern Leafs, the Babcock Leafs if you like, have ever played. This is their greatest effort. Their only goal came from their best man. The Guy. At this moment in time the Caps have one more goal than the team that came last, last year.
The Leafs starting goalie has played a fantastic game, and every player, even the worst ones were great. This is all you can have, ever, from your team. Their best game on the last game of the season.
And then this happened:
Johansson clinches it for the Caps in Game 6 pic.twitter.com/65MWyWujDb— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 24, 2017
Go level up, Leafs. And try this boss fight next year. You’ll be everything we could ever hope for.