Gustafsson, Capitals rake in Maple Leafs in 5-2 win

After a hard fought loss in their previous game, the Washington Capitals stormed back into the win column against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Once again they had to deal with chaotic lineup shuffling due to injuries–both before and during the game. But they came out on the winning end after a hat trick by defenseman Erik Gustafsson plus another top-notch goaltending performance from Charlie Lindgren who completed the game with 34 saves.

Gustafsson would score the game’s first goal 11:12 into the first period. After a give-and-go sequence with Sonny Milano, he tapped in a backhand shot that barely squeaked through an open space between the post and ex-Caps goalie Ilya Samsonov’s leg. Toronto would respond exactly two minutes later as William Nylander blasted a one-timer from just inside the point to tie the game. Trevor van Riemsdyk would close the scoring at 14:48 of the period with a shot from the top of the left circle. The shot partially deflected off defenseman Mark Giordano and then took a bounce off the ice just enough to skip over Samsonov’s outstretched pad.

In the second period, Gustafsson struck again at 2:51 in from a brilliant setup from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Milano. After Milano dropped a pass off to Kuznetsov, Gustafsson collected a perfect cross-ice pass from Kuznetsov as he was pinching in from the point position. A quick shot into the yawning net gave him both his second of the season and as a Capital. Toronto answered again as Auston Matthews, with a scintillating individual effort, took on four Capitals defenders and shot through them in a perfect utilization of a screen play. The shot went through both John Carlson and Lindgren to pull the Leafs to within one at 6:25 of the period.

Just 10 seconds into the last period, Garnet Hathaway surprised the Leafs with a quick wrist shot goal. The play was set up by a charging Nick Jensen who managed to leave the puck in front for Hathaway to collect then fire into the net. Gustafsson closed the scoring and completed his hat trick at 3:47. His left-circle snapshot found just enough room over Samsonov’s shoulder to be tucked neatly under the crossbar.

To a man, postgame interviews recorded team members berating themselves for a terribly played second period. They came away still holding the lead despite being horribly outshot by the Leafs 14 to six. They also fared poorly in faceoffs, winning only 39% for the game, the second time in the last three games with such a low output. Lindgren’s continuing phenomenal play in net made the difference as his team in front repetedly gave away dangerous scoring chances.

NOTES—TJ Oshie left the ice in the second period with a reported upper-body injury. His body language was similar to that displayed when he was originally hurt earlier in the season when he was forced to miss 11 games. Per team sources, his long-term status is to be evaluated tomorrow. Just an hour before game time, the team announced an emergency call-up for goaltender Zach Fucale. Fucale was called in from Hershey to serve as the backup as Hunter Shepard sustained an upper-body injury. A source confirmed the injury was caused by a hard shot absorbed in his mask during practice earlier in the day. Alex Ovechkin, while not recording a point in the game did have six hits which helped set a punishing physical tone for the game. The Capitals’ next game is home at CapitalOne Arena against the Detroit Red Wings. The scheduled start time is 7 PM ET.

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