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Capitals vs. Maple Leafs Playoffs 2017: Three reasons to be nervous about the Toronto Maple Leafs

Capitals vs. Maple Leafs Playoffs 2017: Three reasons to be nervous about the Toronto Maple Leafs

The Capitals face the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round starting on Thursday (7 p.m., CSN). While Washington may be the overwhelming favorites, there are still reasons to worry about Toronto. Here are three reasons to be nervous about a possible upset by the Maple Leafs.

1. Mike Babcock

Babcock is one of, if not the best coach in the NHL. He has won one Stanley Cup, three conference championships, three Olympic gold medals, one World Championship and one World Cup. As young and as inexperienced as the Leafs are, Babcock is the right coach to prepare his young team for playoff hockey. A good coach can get the most out of his players. He has already done that by getting them into the postseason. What else can he do now that he's led Toronto to the playoffs?

RELATED: 2017 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

2. Toronto’s power play

It was another strong season for the Caps’ power play. With a success rate of 23.1-percent, Washington’s unit finished tied for third in the NHL. Toronto, however, finished second with 23.8-percent. No team in the NHL took more penalties from Jan. 1 on than the Capitals. If they stay undisciplined in the postseason, the Leafs have a power play good enough to make them pay.

3. Frederik Andersen

Remember Jaroslav Halak? Of course you do. In 2010, Halak led the Montreal Canadiens to an unthinkable upset of the Caps. In that series, Halak stifled Washington with a .939 save percentage. Andersen is even better. While with the Anaheim Ducks, Andersen was incredible in five playoff games in 2016 with a .947 save percentage and 1.41 GAA. If he can put up similar numbers against Washington, he will give the Leafs a chance.

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz dismisses Babcock's comments on pressure being on Caps

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.

A quick start

Strong starts go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a group in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the opening 20 minutes.


Andre Burakovsky snapping a second period slump

It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked for much of the season.

Ovechkin's two-goal third period

Buffalo would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play from the office. He would later add a deflection goal to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.

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3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

The Capitals needed a win in the worst way and they got one, dispatching the Buffalo Sabres in dominating fashion with a 5-1 win.

Washington was locked in a tight game leading 2-0 heading into the third period when Sam Reinhart scored just 14 seconds into the period to pull Buffalo to within one. The Caps then slammed the door shut, scoring three unanswered goals to put away the Sabres.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Ovechkin: This was career game No. 983 for Ovechkin, tying him for the franchise record for most games played with Calle Johansson. Ovechkin very fittingly celebrated the occasion with two goals. The first came on a power play goal from the office, but there was no need for a one-timer on this one. The Sabres gave him all the time he needed to aim up the shot and wrist it into the top corner.

He added a second goal late off a deflection from a John Carlson shot.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov: To say the Caps have struggled at the start of games would be an understatement. In the last 18 games, Washington has held the lead after the first period only once. Kuznetsov made sure this game started off on the right foot as he scored just 50 seconds into the game. He turned on the jets in the neutral zone to turn the edge on Jason Pominville then easily skated around a weak, ill-advised challenge from Robin Lehner before flinging the puck into the yawning net.

It was the fastest goal to start a game by the Caps this season. It was just the start of what would be a four-point night for the Caps' center as he added three assists.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky had the highlight of the game with his end-to-end goal in the second period to put Washington up 2-0. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he launched himself from the defensive zone, streaked down the center of the ice and in on net to slide the puck through the Lehner's five-hole.

Look how Burakovsky was able to slice through the Sabres' defense. Buffalo had him surrounded, but his speed caught the Sabres off-guard and they were not able to recover in time to actually slow him down.