Suffering some tough puck luck and sluggish aspects to their game during the final month, the Islanders had none of either in Wednesday night's methodical road victory. Nelson's first goal was a sharp but potentially stoppable shot, Ryan Strome's goal to make it 2-1 was a brilliant snipe but required eluding traffic, and Josh Bailey's insurance goal benefited from both his tenacity and a good bounce.
The Capitals and their fans were kept frustrated and quiet through most of the night, and Jaroslav Halak was sharp on his 24 saves: In short, an ideal road game to open the series.
First Period: A lead, lost late
In his second NHL playoff game, Nelson opened scoring at 6:06 of the first period with a sharp shot on the rush from the right wing circle that either fooled Braden Holtby outright or got a piece of Karl Alzner's stick on its way inside the near post.
That was part of a general feeling of control for the Isles in the period, where they outshot the Caps 11-7. But a casual retrieval in the final minute led to Marcus Johansson tying it with a quick release past Jaroslav Halak's blocker from the right wing circle.
Late goal, familiar problem? Maybe.
Second Period: A lead, regained and doubled
Fortunately Ryan Strome got the lead back early in the second when he absolutely zipped a shot through skates and high near post after a faceoff win from John Tavares.
Things got more comfortable at the midway point of the game when Kyle Okposo made a nice play to keep the puck alive, and Josh Bailey took the reward by batting at a bouncing puck that finally squeaked past Holtby to make it 3-1.
Third Period: No alarms and no surprises
The Islanders' first power play in the first period -- a laughably soft series-opening call on Eric Fehr -- was its frustrating non-threatening self, but the Isles did much better on their second power play, which opened the third period after a dumb penalty by Jason Chimera ended the second period. Good pressure, four shots, but no goals on that one.
At minimum, the Capitals' surviving it did not have the effect of rallying the crowd the way a convincing kill might.
But the Isles have been here before with the Caps, memorably losing a 3-0 lead in the third period back in late December (before winning on a Johnny Boychuk overtime goal).
Not this time. The Isles kept things satisfyingly quiet until nearly eight minutes in when Cal Clutterbuck took a high-sticking call. The Caps had some shots on that one, but the Isles were good at staying in position and blocking the lanes. Alex Ovechkin's opportunities were not prime. The Isles killed it.
The fourth line got regular use throughout -- and really, its missile mission was the counter to the Capitals' overall physical approach they will likely take to this series against the speedy Isles.
Everyone played to role as they played out the clock. The 1-2-2 "forecheck" -- 0-3-2 really -- was in full effect with the two-goal lead, and the Capitals had no counter.
Nelson netted his second into an empty net on a smart play, and Jason Chimera took his second silly "I AM PHYSICAL, ROAR" penalty at the 20 minute mark to end the game.
The Isles leave Game 1 with a win, a series lead, and evidently unscathed.