April 24 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: ESPN+, Hulu
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 The Fan
Washington Capitals (44-23-11)
Toronto Maple Leafs (51-21-7)
Just back home from their longest road trip of the season, the Caps jump right back into action on Sunday night when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opener of a two-game homestand, Washington’s last two home games of the 2021-22 regular season.
The Caps were out on the road for 11 days, playing five games in three different time zones. They started the trip with a rough outing in a 7-3 loss to the Leafs in Toronto on April 14, but they rallied to claim points in each of the next four games.
After skating off with a 2-0 win over the Coyotes in Arizona on Friday, the Caps returned home with seven of a possible 10 points on the trip, with a 3-1-1 mark for the excursion.
“Going 3-1-1 sounds a lot better than 2-2-1,” says Caps center Lars Eller. “There’s never an easy game, and today was not an easy game. It might look like it on paper, but on the ice it’s always a battle. And [the Coyotes] hung in there until the very end, so we’re really happy with how we finished this, and we can feel good about ourselves heading back home.”
In Friday’s trip finale in Arizona, the Caps got some big saves from Vitek Vanecek early in the third period to preserve a slim 1-0 lead at the time. Eight of his 19 saves came in the third period, and Vanecek’s shutout was his fourth of the season and the sixth of the sophomore goaltender’s career. Washington goaltenders have combined for a franchise record six road shutouts this season, erasing the previous mark of five established in 1983-84 and matched in 1998-99.
Washington wasn’t able to generate much offense, and Arizona Karel Vejmelka matched Vanecek save for save, except for Conor Sheary‘s goal at 11:33 of the first, which stood up as the game-winner.
John Carlson added an empty-net goal in the final minute, establishing a career best with his 16th goal of the season.
“It’s just one of those games at the end of the trip where you just want to come away with two points, and we were able to do that,” says Sheary. “We had opportunities on the power play to get a couple more, and it didn’t work tonight. But overall, just limiting their chances offensively is what won us the game.”
“I thought the chances were got and we got into the [offensive] zone and we were able to stay there for a little bit,” says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. I don’t think we had a ton of chances – they played good defense – but we were able to stay in there. And if you’re playing offense then you’re not playing defense, and that helped the night, too. Defense is more tiring, and it wears on you a little bit more, especially at the end of the road trip. We played in the right zone tonight.”
Friday’s win was the Caps’ 25th road win of the season, the second most they’ve ever had in a single season. The club record is 27 road victories, achieved in 2015-16 when they were 27-10-4 away from the District.
“It was good,” says Laviolette of the trip. “There was one game where we weren’t very good, but for the most part with the travel, the time zones and everything else, I thought we played some pretty good hockey for the rest of the time, except for the one game.”
As noted earlier, that one game was the opening game of the trip in Toronto, a game in which Washington couldn’t get going and found itself chasing the Leafs on the ice and on the scoreboard. Toronto scored four times in the second period to blow the game open and start the Caps’ trip off with a lopsided loss.
When the Leafs visit on Sunday, the Caps will have a chance to put a better foot forward. Toronto is the only Eastern Conference playoff team the Caps have not defeated during the 2021-22 regular season, and Sunday’s game will be Washington’s last chance to do so.
In the first meeting between the two teams this season, the Leafs won a 5-3 decision in the District on Feb. 28. The Caps haven’t held a lead at any point in their two games against Toronto, and they’ve yielded multiple first-period goals to the Leafs in both games.
Toronto comes to town at the end of a three-game road trip of its own, and the Leafs are still seeking their first win of the journey. After taking an 8-1 thumping from the Lightning in Tampa on Thursday, the Leafs let a 2-0 lead slip away in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Panthers on Saturday in Florida.
Sunday’s game in D.C. is Toronto’s final road game of the season; the Leafs finish up with home games against Detroit on Tuesday and Boston on Friday.
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