Tuesday night’s Leafs loss wasn’t merely about Toronto missing the opportunity to clinch a playoff berth.
Barring a collapse of Carlyle-ian proportions, the club should earn the requisite two points over its three remaining games to punch their ticket to the dance.
Rather, the defeat exemplified how wide the disparity is between the Leafs – as phenomenal as they have played during this year’s exhilarating season – and an elite team like the Capitals.
Should the two teams face each other in the opening round of the post-season, the series could prove to be very short, and not in favour of the team north of the border.
The Leafs were simply outmuscled by Alex Ovechkin and his red, white, and blue-clad teammates in a 4-1 clunker at Air Canada Centre. The only saving grace for the home team was Mitch Marner’s late, inconsequential goal to foil the shutout bid by Washington goalie Philipp Grubauer.
Toronto’s weaknesses were exposed by the stronger, faster Capitals, particularly on the plays that finished with Curtis McElhinney fishing the puck out of the Leafs’ net. The Leafs couldn’t contain the Caps’ third line on a play that finished with Lars Eller taking a pass from Andre Burakovsky from the corner to open the scoring.
Washington showed its creative puck movement on a second period power play, and trade deadline acquisition Kevin Shattenkirk blasted the puck from the point to extend the lead by a pair. Later in the frame, a costly turnover by Jake Gardiner resulted in a goal from Nate Schmidt, a last minute fill-in for Capitals defender John Carlson.
A breakaway goal from Tom Wilson rounded out the opponents’ scoring. Earlier in the game, in the first period, Wilson knocked Leafs forward Brian Boyle out of the game with a clean hit.
“To me it was a one-sided game, they were better than us from start to finish.” coach Mike Babcock said. .We had eight minutes or something there at the start of the second, but they were bigger, stronger, faster, quicker, more organized.”
The Leafs can only turn the page and look to Thursday night ACC. Two points over the Lightning will have Toronto starting their playoff beards.