TORONTO (AP) — Tyler Bozak has the Toronto Maple Leafs believing they could just pull off a big upset in the first round of the playoffs.
Bozak scored 1:37 into overtime to cap Toronto’s comeback from two goals down in the second period, and the Maple Leafs beat the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals 4-3 Monday night to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“That’s been the feeling the whole time,” defenseman Morgan Rielly said after Toronto’s second straight overtime win. “So that hasn’t changed.”
Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri each had a goal and an assist, and William Nylander also scored for the Maple Leafs. Frederik Andersen made 23 saves.
Toronto trailed 2-0 in the first period, and then 3-1 early in the second before Kadri and Nylander scored 4:07 apart late to tie the score in the final minute of the period.
While the 31-year-old Bozak and a handful of veterans – including Rielly, Leo Komarov and Kadri – played well, it was again the performance of the youngsters that shone brightest.
The rookie trio of Matthews, Nylander and Zach Hyman proved almost unstoppable in Game 3 – with more than 70 percent puck possession. Matthews broke his brief playoff dry spell with his two points and six shots (more than the first two games combined) while Nylander managed nine shot.
Hyman chased down the loose puck that led to Nylander’s first of the postseason and then drew the penalty that led to Bozak’s game-winner.
“All those guys have probably had a ton of pressure on them their whole lives,” Bozak said. “They’ve probably always been the best player and the best player on their teams and have always had the pressure to play well. They’re used to it so it doesn’t faze them and you can see that when they’re out there playing.”
Toronto coach Mike Babcock sensed his group gaining confidence after nearly taking Game 1 at Washington. He felt it inch a tick higher with the Game 2 win in double-overtime behind the second of two goals from another rookie, Kasperi Kapanen.
“And obviously now if you talk to our guys, our guys think they’re a good hockey team,” Babcock said after the latest victory, Toronto’s first on home ice in the playoffs in nearly four years. “And they’re playing a good hockey team, but I think you gain respect for yourself and the process and you start believing that maybe you can do this.”
The Leafs were doubted, in part, to beat the Caps because of their overwhelming inexperience – 10 players making their NHL playoff debuts in this series. But it hasn’t been an issue so far and even the Capitals think the subject is overblown.
“At the end of the day it’s just hockey,” Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “All the same things are happening, you just have a little less space, things get closed down a little quicker, the intensity’s higher, it’s a little bit more physical. … You’re playing in a sprint for four wins. So everything is magnified, that’s all.
“It’s the same game.”
Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov all scored for the Capitals. Braden Holtby stopped 24 shots.
All three games so far have been decided in overtime.
Game 4 is Wednesday night.
Kadri said he believed the Capitals knew they couldn’t intimidate the Maple Leafs, and he pushed back against any notion of that when he rocked Brooks Orpik twice on the same shift. Matthews scored 9 seconds after the second one to cut a 2-0 deficit in half. The 19-year-old sped through the neutral zone, fired a shot that ricocheted off some players and then batted a rebound behind Holtby.
The Capitals got the early jump as they scored twice in the first five minutes with both goals coming from their vaunted top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.
Washington looked crisp and confident, cycling pucks with authority in the Toronto end. But they generated few shots or scoring chances beyond the goals and the Leafs pushed back with Matthews’ first of the series.
Washington had a chance to put the Leafs away after Kuznetsov upped the lead back to two with his first of the playoffs 5:39 into the second period, but Toronto’s penalty-kill managed to fend off a full 2-minute 5-on-3 Capitals power play. The unit stood tall again a short while later when the club was called for too many men.