Maple Leafs’ win over Capitals shows what they’re capable of in playoffs

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Present these Toronto Maple Leafs with a serious regular-season challenge, and there is a heavy chance they’ll rise to meet it.

The Washington Capitals rolled into town to face the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena for the first time since 2019 as a wagon on fire.

They had won four consecutive games, knocking off the Lightning, Penguins, Bruins, and Flyers by a total score of 23-10.

But right from puck drop it was evident that Toronto would bounce back from Tuesday’s meek effort against Buffalo, and the speedy Leafs scorched their rugged but sluggish visitors to the tune of 7-3.

Imagine. Ten goals — and super snipers Alexander Ovechkin and Auston Matthews combined for zero.

“They were quicker than us right from the start,” lamented Capitals coach Peter Laviolette.

And right to the end.

A committed Toronto defence prevented a high-powered Washington attack from registering its first shot on net until the contest was nine and a half minutes old, and even fighting an uphill battle, the Caps only directed 25 pucks the way of Jack Campbell.

“I love seeing the boys dominate hockey games,” Campbell smiled.

Michael Bunting snapped his career-worst 17-game goal drought on a passing sequence from superstar linemates Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, the latter eclipsing the 100-point mark for the first time in his career.

“It’s certainly not about me,” Matthews said. “It’s a team accomplishment, and obviously a big bounce back game for us against a really good team.”

William Nylander missed a golden chance early but, on Throwback Thursday, made good on an old-school slapshot off the rush, giving the home side a 2-0 lead after the first period.

A wild second frame brought forth a six-goal explosion.

And while John Carlson and Tom Wilson — in the gutters all night long — scored for the Capitals, Toronto doubled up their visitors with strikes by Ilya Lyubushkin (his first as a Leaf), Ilya Mikheyev, plus one more each from Bunting and Nylander.

The Leafs chased starter Ilya Samsonov and began to pick away at backup Vitek Vanecek for dessert.

Mikheyev deked Vanecek with a third-period burst that screamed “Show me the money!” and left the goalie searching for his wallet.

All seven of Toronto’s goals arrived at even strength.

he chippy, chirpy, penalty-filled affair had much more of a postseason whiff about it than Tuesday’s clunker. And to reap meaningful contributions from so many skaters not named Matthews or Marner was encouraging.

So, for the Maple Leafs to not just hang in but dictate a nice tune-up test is a bright sign of what they may be capable of come May.

“The biggest priority is to move as high up in the standings as we can and have everyone healthy going into playoffs,” Alexander Kerfoot said.

“But we want to be rolling. We want to be playing good, feeling good about our game.”

Well, they have every right to feel that way after this one.

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