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New York Islanders vs. Washington Capitals Game 4: Either turning point or stalemate

Nervous? Yes.

Encore, please.
Encore, please.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders are at home for Game 4 with a great chance to build a dangerous series lead over the Washington Capitals. But of course, the Capitals know that and will bring every effort to even this series, take back "home ice advantage" and make it a best-of-three heading back home.

It's a turning point that either creates separation or reinforces the closeness of two teams that finished the regular season with 101 points each, essentially split their season series, and have spent much of the first three games tied.

If you missed it in the early links, Garik16 had a post musing about how teams behave in this situation, when the extra incentive is there:

Arik Parnass (@arikparnass on twitter) suggested in a Hockey Prospectus article recently (and his presentation at the DC Hockey Analytics Convention) that these effects also are felt in the playoffs based upon a team’s standing in a series – if a team is down in games, they act closer to if they’re down a goal in a hockey game and take more shots and if they’re up, they do the reverse.

I wonder if the Caps-Isles series has been a prime example of that – the Isles have dominated both games where the series was tied (games 1 and game 3), but were dominated themselves the game in which they had a 1-0 series lead (don’t let the score confuse you, that game was dominated by Washington).

(In a way, it's a two-way street: Just minutes after his Game 3 OT winner, John Tavares was asked what to expect in the next game, and his response immediately acknowledged -- expected, really -- that the Capitals' effort would rebound in Game 4.)

Other variables heading into Game 4:

  • The teams are in full "that's classified" mode. Jack Capuano at least acknowledged Jaroslav Halak would be the starter (no brainer) but said lineup was "to be determined." Everyone expects status quo there...
  • The Capitals won't acknowledge any decisions (but expect Braden Holtby again), other than acknowledging Eric Fehr is out at least the next two games after taking that crunching shoulder-to-shoulder hit from Kyle Okposo. If his replacement is Andre Burakovsky -- speculated but not confirmed -- that adds some sneaky skill to the Caps lineup.
  • As noted yesterday and referenced above, the Capitals haven't led much in this series and in fact they've yet to score the first goal. That changes how they play, and if the Caps get the first goal and play old-time Trotzy hockey, we would be in for a new dimension added to the series.
  • So it will either be 3-1 or 2-2 after tonight. That changes the outlook afterward, but as anyone who has watched the Anaheim-Winnipeg series knows, even a 3-0 series lead can be deceiving.

In other words, these two teams are close. They've been close most of the year. How they get to their victories, and their closeness (e.g. Holtby keeping the Caps in Game 3) is different, but each has shown they know how. On that note...

The Cliches That Are True So What Else Can You Say?

It could be a turning point in the series. It’s either 2-2 or 3-1 and you’d rather be up 3-1 than go back [to D.C.] 2-2. It’s a crucial game for us and we have to be ready to do whatever it takes.

Johnny Boychuk has the quotebook down.

And I'm nauseous. (Playoffs are supposed to be fun, aren't they?)

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