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Capitals look to capture first win against Leafs this season

Mar 28, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Conor Sheary (73) handles the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

After completing a 3-1-1 trip, the Washington Capitals return home to play the Toronto Maple Leafs in a matchup of playoff-bound clubs on Sunday night.

The Capitals finished their trip with a 2-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes at Glendale, Ariz., on Friday night with Vitek Vanecek stopping 19 shots to earn his fourth shutout of the season and the sixth of his career.

The game was somewhat of a grind for the Capitals, coming at the end of a long trip against a team that is out of playoff contention.

“I think our guys were muscling through (Friday),” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s the end of the road trip, 11 days, and you’re changing cities and you’re getting into cities late, and everything’s off a little bit. And so I thought it was a really gutsy effort to stay focused and stay with the effort that we needed to be successful.”

Forward Conor Sheary agreed.

“Yeah, at the end of a long road trip against a team that’s out of the playoffs, they’re trying to plug in some young guys,” said Sheary, who scored a goal and added an assist on Friday. “Sometimes those can be dangerous games. They did get some odd-man rushes, and Vitek made the saves when he needed to. But overall, it was a gritty win and a good job by us.”

Washington (44-23-11, 99 points) has lost both games with Toronto (51-21-7, 109 points) this season.

The Capitals have one more home game after playing Toronto and will end their regular season with two road games in New York.

The Capitals are 9-1-2 in their past 12 road games.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to it; I don’t know if we prepare differently or just approach games differently, but it seems like everyone buys in,” Sheary said. “We’re a veteran team, we’re not afraid to play on the road, and sometimes (with a) young team you are. I think we’ve just done a great job all year of that.”

The Maple Leafs will complete a three-game trip on Sunday. They lost 3-2 in overtime to the Florida Panthers on Saturday after losing 8-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

Auston Matthews, who leads the NHL with 58 goals, returned to the Toronto lineup Saturday after missing three games with an undisclosed injury. Matthews was kept off the scoresheet but had some good chances to score.

Matthews suffered the injury in the win over the Ottawa Senators on April 16. The team did not elaborate other than to say the ailment was unrelated to the wrist injury that cost him the first three games of the season.

“Just an awkward collision,” Matthews said before the game on Saturday. “Nothing really too crazy. Put myself in a bit of an awkward spot that just caught me.

“I think it’s something you have to manage moving forward. We’ve got a good staff here. It’s something I can work through. We’ve done a really good job of helping it feel better and doing everything I can to work to improve different areas and just feel as good as I possibly can.”

Toronto lost Michael Bunting in the first period. He favored his right leg after falling behind Florida’s goal.

“He’s going to miss some time, for sure, but I don’t know how much,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.

–Field Level Media