Nicklas Backstrom scored at 11:09 of overtime in Game 4 to push the Washington Capitals to a 2-1 win that evened their series with the New York Islanders at two games apiece. It was the third straight game with a goal for Backstrom, who has unsurprisingly been the Capitals' most dangerous player.
Like most of this series, the game was deadlocked more often than not, but for the first time the Capitals scored first. The Islanders had a run of four consecutive power plays -- three of them in the second period -- that failed to produce a goal, a failure they would regret by the end of the night.
They also lost the frequently targeted Lubomir Visnovsky to a head injury halfway through regulation thanks to a penalized charge by Tom Wilson, an injury that could have lasting impact if it means Visnovsky misses games.
In the first period the Capitals again absorbed lots of early Islanders pressure, with Braden Holtby freezing pucks at every opportunity. The Isles' attack increased with their first power play of the game, thanks to an Alex Ovechkin drive-by leg trip of Nikolay Kulemin.
Then the proverbial momentum shifted: Off an offensive zone faceoff win, John Carlson sent a puck to the net that Alex Ovechkin tipped in the high slot, through a screen for the first goal at 13:06 of the first.
But the Isles fourth line took advantage of an awkward change in the final minute to tie it at 1-1 with 13 seconds left in the first period. Cal Clutterbuck made a great cut to the high slot after gaining the blueline, and the rebound of his shot landed right on the stick of Casey Cizikas, who was driving the net.
Target the Guy with the Concussion History
Between the goals, Ovechkin was allowed a free, four-step run to charge Lubomir Visnovsky from behind with no call. NHL playoff officiating: it's entirely random!
I feel like I just saw two very illegal actions by Ovechkin and Ward but maybe it’s just too loud in here to know for sure.— Dave Lozo (@DaveLozo) April 22, 2015
That wasn't the end of the attacks on Visnovsky, who along with fellow diminutive partner Thomas Hickey has been a target of Caps checks throughout the series. Visnovsky left the game after Wilson's hit left him woozy and drew blood from his nose. Wilson hadn't even hit the bench from his previous penalty, a kneeing against Josh Bailey after Bailey cut back after gaining the zone. This time Visnovsky had just played the puck, and Wilson continued driving through to deliver a shoulder into the face.
The officials had allowed things to escalate before that, with a series of behind-the-play infractions between the Isles fourth line and particularly going uncalled. Playoff hockey's line between barbaric cynicism and rule enforcement is always a blurry one.
Power Play Failure
But the Capitals killed off those two power plays and one more that came via Mike Green clearing the puck over the glass with Cal Clutterbuck in pursuit. The Capitals gave the Isles some golden chances to take the lead, then they yanked them away by giving the Isles no good shooting lanes through the interior.
Through four power plays the Isles had managed eight shots, but only a few of them dangerous. Holtby's brilliance and the inability to get clear looks on the inside appeared to get to their heads, as each power play appeared less effective. They simply didn't get shots with, or through traffic, and couldn't get open looks.
That left the fourth game of this close series tied at 1-1 heading into the third period. The Isles were juggling five defensemen, having lost one of their right-side mainstays in Visnovsky.
Third Period Stalemate
With the Isles getting four unanswered power plays, you knew they'd be due for a call the other way. The Capitals finally got their first and only power play 6:40 into the third period when Anders Lee held up and spun Jay Beagle on a rush.
The Caps had great puck movement, tiring the Isles penalty killers by working the puck down low and up high, but couldn't strike the crucial blow. Halak saved the day with an alert glove at the back door on Marcus Johansson, who was fed by a great fake shot by Ovechkin from Ovechkin's office.
Right as the power play was winding down, Cal Clutterbuck led a shorthanded two-on-one where he hit the post above Holtby's shoulder after Holtby's body got a piece of it. It was so close, Clutterbuck even thought he'd scored and raised his arms. Incredibly, on the rebound from the iron the Isles were exposed for a partial break the other way -- tired bodies changing -- but Andre Burakovsky sent his shot sailing high and wide.
After that, the Islanders had the better of chances, but it was nailbiting throughout, Ovechkin launching volleys from everywhere. With seven seconds left, Ryan Strome unleashed a wicked shot off the rush that Holtby had to jump at to stop with his shoulder.
Nothing doing on the ensuing faceoff, which the Caps won to finish the regulation clock. The Isles had outshot the Capitals 34-23 and out-attempted them 70-53 through three periods, but the failure to convert on four power plays meant it was off to overtime for the second consecutive game.
Overtime: No Parise'd This Time
Overtime was an increasingly fatigued and choppy affair. The ice had been rough all game, but now players were less able to contend with it. The Isles botched their best chances at creating pressure with bouncing pucks and offside infractions.
The Caps had the better of play in the first 10 minutes, and they stroke the final blow after an offensive faceoff following an icing. (There was an ice maintenance timeout, however, so it wasn't one of those "get 'em while they're tired" faceoffs.)
Backstrom was being pursued out of the corner by John Tavares, who'd lost his stick, when Backstrom's lofted shot found its way in between Boychuk and Joel Ward to end the game, and tie the series.
No repeat of the Parise-like early winner. No repeat of the Ferraro '93 double-OT show. This series is going long.