In the final season of Nassau Coliseum, John Tavares added another memorable moment to its storied history.
The New York Islanders captain scored his first NHL playoff overtime goal just 15 seconds into the extra frame to give the Islanders a 2-1 series lead and 2-1 Game 3 victory in the closest game of this series thus far.
The Isles had the better of play through the first 40 minutes, but Braden Holtby stood tall, particularly during a middle frame where the Isles got one goal but could not cash in several chances to extend the lead.
That first goal came from Kyle Okposo, who played like a man on fire throughout the game. But with the Capitals firing at the Isles' net throughout the third period, the always dangerous Nicklas Backstrom equalized to the dismay of a nervous Coliseum crowd.
The stage was set for any kind of Coliseum moment. Tavares grabbed it when he flipped a rebound behind Holtby from the doorstep, eluding John Carlson to a loose puck that Brooks Orpik -- who ended the Islanders' last playoff run in 2013 -- helped hand-deliver.
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The Capitals made no skater lineup changes, but had Braden Holtby back in as the starting goalie after an illness kept him out of Game 2.
The Islanders made one lineup change: Tyler Kennedy slotted in next to Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, replacing Michael Grabner in the lineup. Before the game Jack Capuano said expected lineup changes would depend on "health," so not sure if that's a factor there.
First Period: Loud, Physical, Shot-Happy
The Islanders rode the home crowd to a wave of shots in the opening minutes and outshot the Capitals 16-5 in the first period. But it wasn't quite that lopsided and each team had golden scoring chances. The closest for the Isles was when John Tavares poked a rebound of his own shot just achingly close past the far post.
The Capitals followed with an odd-man rush where John Carlson hit the near post. As time expired, the Capitals had another two-on-one that wouldn't have beaten the clock but did require an uncomfortable splits stretch from Jaroslav Halak.
Bad Blood Arrives: Fehr Hurt by Okposo Check, Penalties Ensue
The Isles fourth line spent an entire early shift hitting Capitals all around the zone, and shortly after Kyle Okposo leveled Eric Fehr with a clean shoulder-to-shoulder check in the corner that sent Fehr to the locker room.
Capitals players took exception, Tom Wilson apparently tried to goad Okposo into a fight at the stoppage, and Curtis Glencross somehow got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty drawn by Cal Clutterbuck.
The Isles had good chances on that power play, but Holtby kept them off the scoreboard. Not long after, the Capitals had their turn with similar results, after Calvin de Haan was whistled for inadvertently tripping Mike Green ahead of the play while both failed to yield on their way to different parts of the ice.
According to Pierre McGuire of NBC reporting from his "inside the glass" position, the chirping and protesting between benches was in high gear before the game began. Though there are lots of playoff encounters in these franchises' histories, the last one was in 1993 and they are traditionally seen as major rivals. But playoffs change all that, and quickly.
Alex Ovechkin took runs at John Tavares and Johnny Boychuk, Matt Martin lined up Ovechkin, every Islanders who could took runs at Tim Gleason, and on and on the playoff hockey went.
Second Period: A Goal, But Only One
The teams exchanged early power plays, with Tyler Kennedy taking a hooking on Karl Alzner, then drawing an interference of his own on Brooks Orpik. Neither opportunity amounted to much. Nicklas Backstrom snuck a painful slash on Okposo's ribs that removed him from the power play.
Lubomir Visnovsky left the ice halfway through after Troy Brouwer caught him with a shoulder to the back of the head while turning through the Isles zone. No penalty called there, and if you were looking for one, it was actually reminiscent of that controversial Winter Classic collision where David Steckel inadvertently ignited that long national nightmare, the Crosby concussion drama. Whatever you thought of the collision or hit, Visnovsky's concussion history makes any unexpected hit from behind a worrisome one.
Fortunately, Visnovsky was back soon and played a role. After Ovechkin joined the headhunting party with a high hit on Vis at the point, Okposo somehow failed to convert an open-net chance. But Vis appeared at the opposite point to blast a shot that deflected in off Okposo for the game's first goal.
Off the next faceoff, Martin and Brouwer got into an exchange of shoves and crosschecks that are randomly allowed during the playoffs. But Brouwer's swipe at Martin's leg which tripped Martin is not: With seven minutes left in the second period and fresh off their first lead, the Isles received their third power play.
Lots of zone time on that power play, but no goal resulted. It had a lasting effect, however: After the power play expired, the Capitals were caught in a run of icings where the Islanders continued to mount pressure, with only Holtby standing in the way of chance after chance to double the lead.
That ended when Brian Strait took a high-stickkng penalty, giving the Caps some breathing room heading into the second intermission. Up to that point, the broadcast had the scoring chances at 12-3 for the Isles.
The 1:20 of the power play in the second period was basically the Ovechkin vs. Boychuk Show, featuring multiple shot blocks. It ended with Boychuk jumping the gun on a sprawling shot block attempt, which let Ovechkin pull back to load up a shot, but Boychuk recovered to spin and swat the puck off Ovechkin's stick and out of the zone as time expired.
Third Period: A Goal, Not the Happy Kind
The Capitals could thank Holtby for getting out of the second period needing only one goal to tie, and you had to wonder if those missed chances would haunt the Isles.
Indeed, outside of a great shift with a couple fought-in-the-trenches chances for Nikolay Kulemin, the first 14 minutes of the third period was spent almost exclusively in the Isles zone. Calvin de Haan's calm puckhandling helped navigate them out of several sticky situations, and Halak was good spotting shots through traffic, but the Caps were pouring it on.
With the Capitals getting Ovechkin and Backstrom out there whenever possible, Boychuk was sent over the boards again and again. He was not on the ice, however, when the Capitals followed an Islanders icing (and timeout) with more sustained pressure. Backstrom tied it at 13:54 with a shot from the high slot that bounced in off the crossbar, with Strome unable to move Ovechkin from just above the crease.
After all that pressing for the equalizer, the Caps rested. The Isles took back the flow of play. A few long shots through traffic came again achingly close before the Isles forced the Caps to use their own timeout after an icing.
The fourth line, having its most effective game in a series that has already garnered it praise, was responsible for some of the chances, as were the kids. But this one was destined to end a different way.
Overtime: Short, Sweet
It was power vs. power to start OT. The Isles had the Tavares line and the Boychuk-Leddy pairing out against the Backstrom/Ovechkin line. But the Isles gained possession, gained the zone after Holtby played a Boychuk dump-in, had one close chance from the point when Nikolay Kulemin deflected toward Holtby's right pad, and then the rebound was free...
That rebound set up Tavares' low-angle winner, and it was over.
Bedlam, happy bedlam. And happy Sunday.
Lines for Game 3
For posterity's sake, how they lined up:
Nikolay Kulemin – John Tavares – Ryan Strome
Josh Bailey – Frans Nielsen – Kyle Okposo
Anders Lee – Brock Nelson – Tyler Kennedy
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Calvin de Haan - Brian Strait
Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky