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Things started so well, and ended so poorly.
The New York Islanders scored first for the fourth time in this playoff series, but they couldn't beat Braden Holtby again as the Washington Capitals ran away in the third period with a 5-1 win. Worse, the Islanders lost another key defenseman for the game, if not longer, when Calvin de Haan took a hit he didn't see coming from Troy Brouwer.
That hit came after the Capitals got a key insurance goal to make it 3-1 early in the third period. Two more goals in the next five minutes put the game beyond any doubt and sent the Islanders back to Nassau Coliseum needing to win to extend the series -- and keep the building open.
First Period: First Blood, Last Blood
The Isles had a few feel-good moments in the first period, by far their best period. Anders Lee fought Game 4 villain Tom Wilson 5:22 into the game, providing some metaphorical if hardly literal revenge for Wilson's injurious Game 4 hit on Lubomir Visnovsky.
On the next shift, the John Tavares line created a few chances, absorbed totally legal abuse from Brooks Orpik, and took a 1-0 lead when Josh Bailey whistled a shot from high in the faceoff circle. Bailey's goal came 26 seconds after the Lee-Wilson fight, but it was the last highlight for the Isles outside of many Jaroslav Halak saves.
Evgeni Kuznetsov tied it just over three minutes later when he knocked in a rebound bouncing along the goal line.
Second Period: Domination, Partial Escape
The Capitals took the lead midway through the second period on a controversial goal, but overall the Isles were lucky to escape the period down only 2-1.
On the play in question, Halak stopped a shot and covered the puck with his glove, but Brouwer's stick blade was also under Halak's glove. Brouwer worked the glove long enough to pop the puck back free, carry around the net, and feed Karl Alzner. Halak's attempted smother had him too far to the other side to recover, so Alzner had a lot of net to shoot at to give the Isles the lead.
We've certainly seen plenty of quicker whistles during the regular season. The best that can be said here is that the ref felt it was never smothered, and Brouwer certainly never gave up.
It was a messy, chaotic period overall, with the teams trading chances but the Isles falling out of their discipline and taking too many risks as they pushed to beat the nearly unbeatable Braden Holtby. After one such pinch, Griffin Reinhart didn't see the ice for the second half of the period.
The mess continued: The Islanders failed on a power play that resulted from a Kuznetsov high-sticking call, they dodged a bullet when Ryan Strome was not whistled for a high-stick on Kuznetsov. More confusingly, the refs did blow play dead this time...but because they thought he was injured, and not because they witnessed how.
The Capitals would get a power play during a final push, however. After Thomas Hickey was stripped on an attempt to clear up the boards and kill the clock, Alex Ovechkin drove wide of the net and tripped over a sprawled Jaroslav Halak's right pad. Frans Nielsen was in pursuit, but the call was on Halak -- a call you never see, but hey. playoffs are for slow whistles, late hits, and tripping penalties on goalies.
With a 2-1 lead, the Caps would start the third with a power play on proverbial fresh ice.
Third Period: Bye bye game, bye bye de Haan
The Capitals didn't convert their power play to open the third period, but the after-effects still produced an insurance goal. After Tyler Kennedy, who was serving Halak's penalty, failed to gain the center redline to get a dump and change, the Isles were a bit mixed up as the Capitals took it back in. Nick Leddy was bumped off the puck in the corner on the retrieval by Jay Beagle, and Brooks Laich came around front just in time to knock home a rebound to make it 3-1.
Adding injury to insult, Calvin de Haan left for the dressing room after -- you'll never believe this! -- a late hit. Troy Brouwer delivered the blow after de Haan passed the puck, using Thomas Hickey as a screen to blindside de Haan:
GIF: de Haan just went to the locker room after this hit pic.twitter.com/DgiBJgoY46— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) April 24, 2015
With the defense wounded, tired and falling apart, the Capitals got a couple of quick additional goals to put the game away. The one that knocked Jaroslav Halak from the game was from far out on the short-side, but through a brutal screen from his own teammate.
With the fourth line looking to mix things up, Cal Clutterbuck took the bait in a post-whistle scrum, slashing away after he was tripped up. In the arbitrary wisdom of NHL officiating, there was only one penalty from the exchanges of toolery. Once again the Islanders did well to kill that power play, but once again they gave up a goal soon after. This time Casey Cizikas was wrestled down as he tried to carry through the neutral zone, and the turnover led to a breakaway goal for Kuznetsov.
Cizikas got away with a blatant slash to Wilson's man parts -- Wilson held Cizikas' stick between his legs afterward to display the evidence -- but arbitrary officiating preferred not to call a penalty for this:
GIF Cizikas spears Wilson in the crotch pic.twitter.com/RpwW4TCzyn— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) April 24, 2015
Finally and not long after, the officials stepped back in. With Matt Martin (here) and then Cal Clutterbuck (here) delivering slashes at a defensive zone draw, the refs tossed Martin with a misconduct and Clutterbuck with a minor. Nothing gained -- certainly no eye-for-an-eye injury -- from the fourth line's least disciplined phase of the series, but thankfully the game was put out of its misery before anything further stupid could happen.
The Isles got one more power play to make it an even 0-for-12 on the series, and Michal Neuvirth got some mop-up duty and six shots after the Capitals' fifth goal.
By the end they were outshot 41-23 and given up five goals despite several Halak saves that kept it from getting worse.
Game 6 Saturday: Last Call at the Coliseum?
Now, the Islanders have to win at home in Game 6 on Saturday just to force a Game 7. That means it could be the last game at Nassau Coliseum, and even if they win at [whatever time the league decides to start the game], they won't know if that's the end.
They face a tall challenge: Possibly a third crucial defensman injury, one or two rookies in their stead, and a goalie at the other end they haven't really solved.
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**NOTE to commenters who didn't read the plea at the top: Can't believe I need to say this, but yay Internet 2015! If you're abusive, if you're trolling, if you're inappropriate, if you can't discuss the game in a reasonable fashion -- if you're behaving like the idiot you claim not to be -- you're not welcome to comment here. We don't get paid extra to babysit comment forums, so take it to one of the other lovely outposts of sewage on the Internet.**