TORONTO (Apr. 19) — Losing Game 4 at the Air Canada Centre Wednesday night was hardly an impossibility for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Losing as they did, however, could not have been predicted.
For one of the few times in his first season as a Leaf, goalie Ferderik Andersen wasn’t ready to perform. And, there are no mulligans in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Anyone that says “oh, give Freddy a break; he’s been good all season” hasn’t watched a lot of hockey in April, May and June. What happens between October and April gets you to the dance. Acquiring two left feet during the Cup tournament nullifies all of the good stuff that led up to it. So, Andersen gets no pass from this corner. The most important individual to the Blue and White is their goaltender — the man that finally put an end to the malaise of the post–2005 lockout era.
Under no circumstance can he allow four goals in the first period of a home playoff game in which his team can take a choke–hold on the opposition. Then a horrible tally with less than 5:30 remaining in regulation that proved to be the winner — T.J. Oshie finding room on the short side from a difficult angle, without a screen. Give Washington credit. The Capitals knew they couldn’t lose again and reasonably expect to advance beyond the first round. But, it was way too easy for the visitors in the opening 20 minutes.
The Leafs needed a save… and didn’t get one.
So, now, the most important player needs to bounce back.
Andersen was the best player on the ice in Game 2, when the Leafs last visited Washington and came away with an overtime victory. Kasperi Kapanen got most of the ink afterward, but the big Dane provided Toronto a chance to deadlock the series. Freddy wasn’t as big a factor in Game 3; nor did he have to be. Yes, he gave up two early goals, but his teammates controlled the puck for much of the second and third periods.
They earned the overtime victory with their speed and tenacity.
Though the Capitals were looking rather silly to the hockey world with a 2–1 series deficit, it required limited genius to assume they would come out guns–a–blazin’ in Game 4; their season essentially on the line. Had they been stonewalled by playoff–caliber goaltending in the first ten minutes, the Leafs could have wandered back into the American capitol with a chance to close out the series on Friday at the Verizon Center. But, Andersen did not provide his team that opportunity. Neither am I suggesting that all of Washington’s goals were soft; many a netminder has been decimated by Alex Ovechkin’s one–timer from the top of the faceoff circle. But, the Maple Leaf stopper wasn’t up to the challenge. Even a fortunate call on a video–review in the third period couldn’t spark Andersen. He nicely sold a goaltender–interference call that should have been overturned, giving Washington a 5–2 lead. Instead, the officials upheld their questionable decision and Auston Matthews scored soon–after to make it a one–goal game.
When Oshie snuck an easy shot by Andersen three minutes later, it was lights out.
Freddy needs to straighten his head in the 45 hours between Games 4 and 5.
Otherwise, a best–of–three sprint to the finish should hardly dismay the Leafs — even with two games in Washington. Up to now, there’s been no–such thing as home–ice advantage in this playoff round. The visitors could easily have won the first two games at the Verizon Center; as the Capitals may have done at the Air Canada Centre. What neither club can afford is a stinker from their rock between the pipes.
Sadly for the Leafs, they got one from Frederik Andersen on Wednesday.