It wasn't Ali-Frazier II, or even Rocky II, but the first Islanders-Capitals game since their brutal first round playoff match-up last season was hyped as a game the Islanders wanted to use to make a statement.
After a mostly Caps-controlled 4-1 loss Thursday night at Barclays Center, that statement ended up being, "We are not as good as these guys."
The Islanders had a disappointing start to the game, not showing much energy and conceding possession more often than not in the first period other than a few shifts that provided hope. But Jaroslav Halak, coming off IR and playing for the first time since before the Christmas break, let up a bad-angle goal to Jason Chimera just 5:45 in to accentuate the malaise.
There was an early exchange of hits with guys like Thomas Wilson (who later clobbered Thomas Hickey from behind in his march through the smallest defensemen he can find), and Marcus Johansson gave the Islanders a chance to tie it when he took an uncharacteristic headshot at Hickey.
But when Alex Ovechkin made it 2-0 -- finding a soft spot right in the slot on the rush, after quickly grabbing a new stick from the bench as the Caps began their counterattack -- one wondered when the Isles would wake up for a big game with the last season's playoff foes and the current leaders of their division.
It finally happened in a much better second period. Brock Nelson scored just two minutes in, on one of his increasingly familiar wristers from the slot after a nice setup from Ryan Strome. They were more alive, and when they had a power play chance to tie it 14 minutes into the period, they executed one of their finest power plays of the season.
But they failed to beat Braden Holtby and, worse -- turning point warning! -- they conceded the next goal just six seconds after that power play expired, Nate Schmidt firing through a Josh Bailey screen to restore the two-goal lead entering the second intermission.
The Caps hardly let up, and made finding any offense for a comeback difficult for the Isles from the get-go in the third period. John Tavares had a couple of looks, but was also hounded pretty tightly, and the Caps blocked nearly everything directed towards Holtby.
The Islanders pulled Halak, but couldn't put anything together. Niklas Backstrom sealed the deal with an empty netter shortly after Ovechkin hit Travis Hamonic high with either the shaft of his stick or a shoulder. Expect this to be another thing harped on by one or both fanbases for a while.
Ovechkin Inches Closer
Ovechkin's goal was the 497th of his career, one in which it feels like he's scored 400 of those 497 against the Islanders.
The "general body soreness" type of injuries to look out for going forward were many: Hamonic blocked a shot off his ankle but stayed in the game. Casey Cizikas took a shot off the foot and missed some time late in the second and early in the third but returned to the game. Hickey took a couple of aforementioned big hits but stayed in the game.
We'll see if any of those have acted up when the Isles next play about 40 hours from now in Philadelphia.