Tyler Bozak scored a power play marker at 1:37 of overtime to win Game 3 of the Leafs’ first round matchup versus the Washington Capitals, giving Toronto a 2-1 series lead.
The goal capped off what appeared to be an improbable rally after the Leafs fell behind by a pair of goals twice in the game. But the Leafs scored three times in succession to transform the atmosphere at Air Canada Centre from funereal silence to joyous pandemonium.
Washington, looking to avenge its double overtime loss on Saturday, scored on its first two shots on goal. Potent linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin each found the back of the net early in the first period to stun the sellout crowd of 19,861.
Indeed there was little reason for the patrons to wave their complimentary white towels before both Leo Komarov and Nazem Kadri dished out powerful hits on Ovechkin, and Brooks Orpik, respectively. On the same sequence, Auston Matthews – in a brilliant flash of hand-eye coordination – retrieved a deflection off defenceman Nate Schmidt before beating Braden Holtby for the Leaf rookie`s first career playoff goal.
The Capitals reclaimed their two-goal advantage in the second period. Frederik Andersen gave up a rebound off a shot from Marcus Johansson where an opportunistic Evgeny Kuznetsov buried the puck in the net from a bad angle.
In a huge turning point in the contest, Washington missed a glorious chance to extend their lead after a scuffle between Matt Martin and Tom Wilson, combined with a hooking call on Matt Hunwick, gave the visitors a two-minute, two-man power play. But the Capitals failed to muster any scoring threat, exemplified by Kevin Shattenkirk missing an open net with a one-timer.
Washington`s failure to – (sorry) capitalize – proved costly.
The Leafs clawed back into the game, getting to within a goal when Nazem Kadri`s point shot deflected off the posterior of Brooks Orpik and in behind Holtby.
Then, in the final minute of the second period, the young guns exuberantly evened the affair. Zach Hyman furiously chased down a puck in the Capitals zone, fought off Shattenkirk and found Matthews behind the net. Matthews made a nifty centring pass to William Nylander, who collected the tying goal after getting his own rebound.
A scoreless third period ended with a high-sticking penalty to Lars Eller for striking Hyman with the lumber.
With the penalty carrying over into the extra session, the Leafs got their second overtime goal in as many games. As time ticked away in Eller`s penalty, Morgan Rielly – at the point – dished off to Kadri at the left wing boards. Kadri fired towards the goal, and Bozak deflected the puck past Holtby to seal the victory, and claim the series lead for his team.
“You just want to be with your teammates and celebrate,” an elated Bozak said after the game. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs in this series, some overtime – every game is overtime – so those are the most fun games to play, definitely. It’s nice that we got rewarded tonight and won the game.”
With all three contests in this series going to overtime, the David versus Goliath between the rookie-laden Leafs and the Presidents’ Trophy winner has been closer than many prognosticators had forecast.