Washington Capitals (55-19-8, first, Metro Division) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (47-20-15, second wild card in the Eastern Conference)
Why you have to watch: Alex Ovechkin vs. Auston Matthews: The best scorer of his generation against the rookie with the most goals since Ovechkin. That is the matchup to watch. … The Washington Capitals earned their second straight Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular season team. Unlike last season, though, they got some pushback from the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins before pulling away down the stretch. Probably a good thing. … One carryover from last season is the Caps are dominant on both sides of the puck, ranking second in goals per game, first in goals against per game, third on the power play and sixth on the penalty kill. … The Caps got the best player available at the trade deadline in defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. They’re loaded. Again. … The Caps have failed to advance beyond the second round since captain Ovechkin debuted in 2005-06 and they collectively know if they don’t get it done this spring, there will be significant changes. … The Leafs are an exciting team, led by 2016 first-overall draft pick Matthews, whose 40-goal season has him set for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. … This is just the second trip to the postseason for the Leafs since the 2004-05 lockout.
Head to head: Washington edged Toronto 2-1 during the regular season, one of those wins coming in overtime. … What might dog the Leafs more is missing out on a golden opportunity to avoid playing the Capitals when they blew a 2-0 lead against the Blue Jackets in Game 82, denying them a much more favorable matchup against the Ottawa Senators.
Injury fallout: The Leafs have serious injury concerns after goalie Frederik Andersen left Saturday’s game against the Penguins after a collision with Tom Sestito. Andersen did not play Sunday but is expected to start Game 1. The Leafs also lost defensemen Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak in Sunday’s regular-season finale, putting strain on an already thin defense. … Andre Burakovsky recently returned for the Capitals after missing more than a month with a hand injury. Burakovsky forms a surprisingly effective third line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller.
Goalie advantage: Assuming Andersen is healthy enough to go, this remains a whopper mismatch as Braden Holtby, the defending Vezina Trophy winner, is one of only three goalies in NHL history to record three straight seasons of 40 or more wins. And while the Caps have never gotten the job done in the postseason, it’s not on Holtby, who has a .937 save percentage in 46 career playoff games. … The one thing Andersen has done that Holtby hasn’t is lead his team to the conference finals, which he did two years ago when he was with the Anaheim Ducks.
Coaching advantage: Caps head coach Barry Trotz has the same playoff hurdle to get over as his team does, as he has never coached beyond the second round, dating back to his long tenure with the Nashville Predators. … The Leafs have one of the most successful coaches of this generation in Mike Babcock, who should be a finalist for the Jack Adams as coach of the year for surprisingly getting his young Leafs into the playoffs. … The Leafs had the lowest winning percentage (.378) in the league in one-goal games, a reflection of their youth. … The Leafs were 22nd in goals against per game and allowed the seventh-most 5-on-5 goals. … Babcock is the better coach, but it won’t matter given the firepower Trotz’s team possesses.
Prediction: The Leafs are a great story and not just because of Matthews. Fellow rookies Mitch Marner and William Nylander are dynamic and each collected 61 points as the Leafs finished fifth in goals per game. … Nazem Kadri has evolved into an effective two-way center and the future for the Leafs is extremely bright. … But the Leafs aren’t good enough defensively and they’re about to get steamrolled by the real deal. Capitals in 5.