It looked like the Caps were going to win easily in Toronto on Saturday. The final was a bit too close for comfort, but the Capitals did hold on for the 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs.
Washington jumped out to a 2-0 lead with two goals from Alex Ovechkin. After a goal from Jakub Vrana in the second, it looked all but over. Then Jake Gardiner scored early in the third and the Leafs made a late push. The Caps held on, however, and won on the second leg of a back-to-back for the first time this season.
Here are the three stars of the game.
1. Alex Ovechkin
This one wasn't hard. Ovechkin scored twice in the first period to pass Mike Bossy for 21st on the all-time goal list. The first goal came on a phenomenal end-to-end effort in which he was able to weave his way through the Maple Leafs' defense seemingly effortlessly before putting a shot past Curtis McElhinney almost before the goalie could even react. The second he teed up right off the faceoff for the power play goal. When this game turned into a nail-biter in the third period, it was Ovechkin who finished off the game and his 20th career hat trick with the empty net goal.
2. Jakub Vrana
Vrana took what was a one-on-one battle and turned it into a breakaway when he turned on the jets, pushed his way past Nikita Zaitsev and then left him in the dust. That goal turned into the game-winner. We can all see how moving Ovechkin back with Nicklas Backstrom has sparked the top line, but what about Vrana? He now has three goals in three games and has looked like a completely different player since being put on the second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie.
3. Jake Gardiner
At 3-0 through two periods, this game looked over. Then he collected a misplay from Auston Matthews at the blue line and fired a slap shot that beat Braden Holtby. That brought woke up both the Leafs and the crowd and made this a game. Toronto dominated the third period and made a real push to tie a game that looked well in hand after 40 minutes.
No player on the Caps gets more scrutiny than defenseman Brooks Orpik. While the analytics aren't kind when he's on the ice, we got to see what the Caps looked like without him when he was scratched against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday and...well, his loss was noticeable.
JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir discuss what Orpik's true impact on the Capitals really is both on and off the ice on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast. Plus, they also talk about John Carlson's monster season and Barry Trotz's new strategy for the goalies.
The 2018 NCAA Hockey Tournament bracket has been announced and only one Capitals prospect, Brian Pinho, is still in the running.
Providence College was selected as the No. 2 seed in the East Regional and will play No. 3 Clarkson in the first round on Friday, March 23 on ESPNU. The winner will play the winner of Notre Dame-Michigan Tech on Saturday with a chance to advance to the Frozen Four.
The college season is over for the rest of the Capitals' college prospects which begs the question, will any of them sign an entry-level deal with Washington?
In the spring when seasons end for colleges, junior leagues and European leagues, we see a flurry of signings across the NHL as teams sign their prospects and young free agents.
Among the Caps' college prospects, the most likely candidate to sign would be Shane Gersich. Gersich just wrapped up this third season at the University of North Dakota, finishing second on the team in goals (13) and tied for third in points (29). The Capitals will certainly make a push to sign him considering his talent and because if he returns to college for a fourth year, he stands to become a free agent on Aug. 15, 2019.
Quinnipiac defenseman Chase Priskie is in a similar situation, but it he has decided to head back to school for another season.
“That wasn’t a season I’d want to leave on,” Priskie told the New Haven Register. “When I came here as a freshman I saw our senior class, Garteig, St. Denis, Soren Jonzzon, and they left such a legacy that guys still talk about them. Same for Sam Anas and Devon Toews. They were all such great players and some of the best people for our program. When I leave, I want to be talked about like they are.”
For Pinho, now a senior at Providence, this marks an opportunity for him to finish his college career the same way he began, with a national championship. “I don’t think I realized at the time how hard it is just to get back to the tournament,” Pinho told the New Haven Register. “So that’s something we older guys have been telling the younger guys. You never know when you’re going to be back and you have to make the most of it when you’re there.” (You can read the full feature on Pinho here)
The end of the season may suddenly be near for goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov. Metallurg Magnitogorsk finds itself down 3-1 in its series with Ak Bars in the KHL playoffs meaning their season could be over as early as Friday. Of course, the big news to watch after that is whether or not Samsonov would come to North America. If he does, he would most likely go to Hershey to play for the Bears. With only 10 games remaining on Hershey's schedule, however, the sooner Samsonov's team is ousted from the playoffs, the better. At least from a Washington perspective.
All three of Washington's WHL prospects have reached the WHL playoffs. Moose Jaw (Dmitriy Zaitsev) finished with the best record in the league and will play Prince Albert in the first round. Swift Current (Beck Malenstyn) finished second in the East Division behind Moose Jaw and will play Regina. Everett (Garrett Pilon) won the U.S. Division and earned the top seed in the Western Conference. They will play Seattle in the first round.
Adam Carlson has found his groove in Kansas City. Playing for the Mavericks of the ECHL, he won each of his two starts this past week allowing only one goal on 43 shots. He was named the 2nd star of the game for both games.
Madison Bowey recorded an assist on Friday and two more for Hershey on Saturday for three over the weekend in his first week back with the Bears. Bowey has spent the majority of the season with the Caps, but the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek at the trade deadline meant there were just too many bodies up in Washington and not enough playing time to go around. As Bowey is waiver exempt, he became the odd-man out and was sent to the AHL. It would not be surprising to see him recalled by Washington when the NHL playoffs begin.
Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler brought his goal total up to five for the season with two goals against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Monday. The Bears really wanted to emphasize his offensive game this season to see if Siegenthaler could be developed into a two-way player. His strength is definitely is on the defensive end of the ice, but he will be a more versatile player if he can also be a threat offensively as well. You can see the highlights of Siegenthaler's two-goal game here:
Forward Hampus Gustafsson was recalled to Hershey last week and did not wait long to make an impact. He scored his first career AHL goal on Friday. He also added an assist making that game his first career multi-point game as well.
Tyler Lewington was suspended two games by the AHL for a punch he delivered to Bridgeport's Scott Eansor in Friday's game.