Published: Thu, April 20, 2017
Sport | By Stephen Hansen

Maple Leafs blow lead, draw Capitals in first round

They clinched their first berth in four years and second since 2004 with a 5-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are going back to the playoffs.

Toronto will play the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs if the Maple Leafs pick up at least a point in their season finale against Columbus on Sunday.

"You knew he had the talent", Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said, "But sometimes it's just a matter of time before it translates to the National Hockey League and obviously he's wasted no time". They'll likely be without standout rookie defenseman Zach Werenski. To most, that series would be preferable than the alternative, given that Ottawa is suffering through injuries.

The Leafs and Capitals will play Game 1 at 7 p.m. Thursday in Washington.

They'll have their third straight shot at cementing a spot in the playoffs on Saturday night when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins. "You want to gain home ice and match up who you play best against".

I feel as though this game will go to whoever can dominate on the offensive end of the ice. He joined a team that was 30th in the League with 69 points in 2015-16 and played a vital role in helping it qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 95 points this season. Beyond just producing, that trio will need to be tighter defensively in the postseason - they give up the most goals of any regular line combination for Toronto (2.88 goals-against per 60 minutes).

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson). A trainer tends to injured Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo after he was hit by Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston on Saturday, April 8, 2017.

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The Maple Leafs with a lineup filled with talented rookies, are ahead of schedule by making the playoffs this season. The organization has been dramatically overhauled since with Brendan Shanahan taking over as president, Mike Babcock as head coach and Lou Lamoriello as general manager. That's when it's a totally different program.

"When we come this far, we are not going to be satisfied with anything but trying to move on and trying to win games so were not just happy to be here. The closer we get, the bigger chance we have, so you kind of start thinking, 'Maybe, we've got a chance to get in here'".

"Well I think it's a way different thing for our team", Babcock said before Sunday's 3-2 loss to Columbus.

Coming on some since midway through the first, the Jackets came charging back with three goals in less than seven minutes.

The Maple Leafs struck back 29 seconds later when van Riemsdyk potted his 27th goal of the season from the high slot.

He was named an AHL All-Star this season and has posted a 28-15-2 record with a 2.15 GAA, .925 save percentage and three shutouts in 45 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Calvert got the first with a weak backhand between McElhinney's pads, Anderson followed up off the rush, Atkinson notching the go-ahead marker shorthanded. Nikita Zaitsev took a hit from Nick Foligno in the dying seconds of the first period and he was visibly shaken up. He went immediately to the dressing room, returned for one shift in the second and then exited for good with an upper-body injury.

Tonight's game will be an interesting one for the Pittsburgh Penguins. A regulation loss sends the Maple Leafs to Washington and the brutal Metropolitan Division side of the draw.

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