The Leafs versus Capitals ‘rivalry’ is hardly a storied one.
141 games played between the two clubs since 1974, with nary a playoff match, before today. The Leafs are seven games under .500 all-time, in head-to-head matches: 60-67-10-4.
Two Hall of Famers have played for both sides: Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy.
Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin – the offensive spark plugs for their respective squads – are both first-round overall picks. Coincidentally, they share the same birthday: September 17.
Apart from that, there is not much overlap through 43 years of co-existence between the franchises.
Be that as it may, in anticipation of the opening of the Eastern Conference Quarter-Final here’s a look back some memorable Leafs vs. Capitals moments:
Leafs acquire Connor Carrick
Just before last year’s trade deadline, the two teams completed a swap. Toronto sent Daniel Winnik and a fifth-round pick to Washington for Connor Carrick, Brooks Laich and a second-rounder in 2016 (Carl Grundstrom). Both rosters have benefited from the deal. Carrick – one of the more eloquent and knowledgeable players in the dressing room – has shown great hockey sense on the blue line, and is still developing his game at age 23. On the Capitals side of the bench, the veteran Winnik has filled in nicely in a checking role for coach Barry Trotz. His line complemented by Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson is expected to give the Leafs fits during this series.
Whitewash by Toronto, February 12, 1977
On this day the Capitals, in just the team’s third year of existence, were no match for the Leafs. Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald each scored twice in a 10-0 romp. Swedish winger Inge Hammarstrom, who Harold Ballard once described as a player who could go into the corner with a dozen eggs and not break any of them, registered a goal and added four assists. Making 30 saves for the shutout was Mike Palmateer – who makes an appearance later in this list.
Washington’s revenge, December 11, 1981
It took nearly four years for the Caps to avenge their humiliation but indeed Washington victimized Toronto for an 11-2 drubbing at the Capital Center in Landover, Maryland. The Leafs team was in total disarray, having been run into the ground by Ballard. Sittler, one of the Leafs’ scorers, was shipped to Philadelphia just over a month later. Washington’s Bobby Carpenter led the charge with a pair of goals.
Iafrate traded for Zezel, Rouse
In 1991, the Leafs acquired two effective, yet sometimes unheralded, pieces of the team that eventually warmed Toronto fans’ hearts with consecutive appearances in the Conference Final: Peter Zezel and Bob Rouse. Zezel, a shutdown centre and faceoff specialist, was the pivot on a checking line between Bill Berg and Mark Osborne. Meanwhile, Rouse strived in the defensive system implemented by coach Pat Burns. Paired with Sylvain Lefebvre on the blue line, Rouse did his best to ensure that Felix Potvin had an unblocked view in front of the Leafs goal. The Leafs gave up Al Iafrate in the trade – a rearguard blessed with outstanding speed and a cannon of a shot, but who also brought intangible baggage into the dressing room.
Ovechkin hat trick at ACC
On January 15, 2010 Alex Ovechkin recorded his only hat trick against the Maple Leafs to date, in a 4-1 Washington win at Air Canada Centre. Ovi got the better of Leafs netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere with a pair of goals, then completed the trick late in the third period into an empty net.
Leafs trade Palmateer
So, about the dismantling of the Leafs by Ballard and his partner in crime, general manager Punch Imlach? The 80s are period of time that Toronto fans prefer to forget, and not just because of the bad hairdos. On June 11, 1980 Toronto dealt Mike Palmateer, who backstopped what was once an upstart Leafs squad, off to greener pastures in DC. With a third-rounder also going the other way, Toronto got back Tim Coulis, Robert Picard, and a second-round pick (Bob McGill). By then, the once-promising roster was now in shambles. McDonald had been shipped to Colorado shortly before the previous New Year’s Day. Tiger Williams was not far behind. A decade of frustration and futility was descending upon Leafs Nation.
Matthews to Komarov
To end this list, we not only marvel at Matthews’s uncanny playmaking ability, but also can’t help but chuckle at Leo Komarov trying to console defender Brooks Orpik. Of course Orpik didn’t take kindly to what he interpreted to be a rather condescending gesture (‘it’s ok Brooks, don’t feel bad, we have Matthews!’)
In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.