With the NHL playoffs starting on Wednesday, it is time to look back on the history of the teams playing each other in the first round. One matchup took until game 82 to be confirmed, and that matchup is the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals. All the pressure in this series will be on the Presidents’ Trophy winner. Now these teams have never actually played each other in the playoffs, so this article will focus on the recent playoff history of each team.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Washington Capitals Playoff History
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t had too much recent success with the NHL postseason. Before this season, the Leafs had not made the playoffs in a full 82 game season since 2004, when they lost in the second round to the Philadelphia Flyers. However, this year is the first time in four years that the Leafs have made the playoffs in any type of season. The previous playoff season was shortened by the lockout (2013) and it was the first time in eleven years the Leafs had made it to the dance.
That series saw the Leafs matchup against an Original Six rival, the Boston Bruins. Boston quickly showed their playoff experience over the Leafs by winning the first game 4-1 and jumping to a 1-0 series lead. The Leafs fought back in the next game, one in which Joffrey Lupul scored twice to help the Leafs win 4-2. The series would be tied 1-1 heading back to Toronto to play in the Air Canada Centre in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
In the first game back in Toronto, the Air Canada Centre erupted when Jake Gardiner scored to cut the Bruins 2-0 lead in half. Boston would end up taking game three and regaining the series lead at 2-1. Boston would also go on to win the next game, taking a 3-1 series lead back to the TD Garden in Boston.
With the chance to close out the series at home in game five, Boston fought hard but ultimately lost the game 2-1. Tyler Bozak gave the Leafs the lead with a shorthanded goal, and Clarke MacArthur scored off a Bruins turnover to help the Leafs to a victory. In game six back in Toronto, the Leafs were able to hold on to another 2-1 win with the goals coming from captain Dion Phaneuf and star winger Phil Kessel. The series would go back to Boston for game seven.
With the Leafs coming back from being down in the series 3-1 to force game seven, this would normally be something to remember for Leafs fans. Instead, it is a game that every fan of the Leafs tries to forget. The Bruins got off to a good start, taking a 1-0 lead after a turnover from Leafs defenseman Cody Franson. After that, the game was mostly all Toronto. Over the course of the game, the Leafs managed to score four unanswered goals taking a 4-1 lead, leading everyone to believe the game was over. Everyone but the Boston Bruins of course. The Bruins fought back, with Patrice Bergeron tying the game with just under a minute left and sending it to overtime. In the overtime period, it was once again Bergeron who scored, knocking the Leafs out of the playoffs.
After making the playoffs for the first time in eleven years, the Leafs season was finished. After a collapse like that, the Leafs plan to improve their success in this series against Washington, although it will not be easy.
In recent years, especially since drafting Alex Ovechkin first overall in 2004, the Washington Capitals have been relatively consistent in making the playoffs. After missing the playoffs in 2005-06 and 2006-07, Ovechkin’s first two seasons with the team, the Capitals have only missed the playoffs once. This postseason miss coming in 2013-14.
Although the Capitals have been consistent in making the playoffs, they haven’t seen much success. Since drafting Ovechkin, the Capitals have never made it past the second round of the playoffs, and have only once made it to the finals in their entire franchise history (1998).
After winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season with an astounding 120 points, many thought it to be the Capitals’ year to finally win a Stanley Cup. The Capitals eventually fell in the second round to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The series went to six games, with the Penguins’ Nick Bonino winning game six in overtime. It was a heartbreaking loss that many Capitals fans won’t soon forget.
The previous season (2014-15) was yet another successful year for the Capitals. They finished the regular season with 101 points, which was good enough for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. Their postseason saw them winning the first round against the New York Islanders in a seven-game series, leading to a second round match-up with the New York Rangers. This series also went the distance, with the Rangers Derek Stepan scoring the overtime winner to once again knock Washington out of the playoffs.
Since drafting Ovechkin, the Capitals only made the second round in three other seasons (2008-09, 2010-11, and 2011-12). In 2009, the Capitals lost in the seventh game to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2011, after running over the Rangers in five games in the first round, the Capitals got swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. And in 2012, the Capitals fell in seven games to the New York Rangers.
The Capitals don’t have much success when it comes to longevity in the playoffs, but they have the experience and know what it takes to win a round. With a core of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Braden Holtby in net, the Capitals are looking to do what they have never done before; win the Stanley Cup.
Both teams are looking to change their recent playoff history and they hope to get a good start when they play each other in the postseason for the first time on Thursday.