The Islanders salvaged a point on Frans Nielsen's late third period goal, but Justin Williams' score in OT gave the Washington Capitals a 3-2 win at Barclays Center on Thursday night.
The Islanders' sad 4-1 loss at home to the Capitals in January and their hard-luck 3-2 loss in Washington two weeks ago were still fresh lessons. And after 64 or so minutes tonight, we learned... something. Maybe. It depends.
First Period: First Blood
The game began with an immediate reunion of Tom Wilson and Thomas Hickey behind the Islanders net, plus a few early Islanders icings. Travis Hamonic and Alex Ovechkin also found each other just like old times.
Things settled quickly into the structured but talented game these two teams are known for until a Andre Burakovsky holding penalty midway through. The Islanders worked that power play well -- tiring the opposition as well as themselves out with puck movement and a few shots -- but Anders Lee's backhand try was stopped by Braden Holtby on the power play's last breath.
On his next shift, John Tavares opened scoring with a nifty move on Nate Schmidt after a smooth give-and-go through the neutral zone with Nick Leddy. Holtby probably wanted Tavares' short-side goal back, but it was a star play by the captain.
A minute later the Capitals got their first power play on a holding penalty on Nikolay Kulemin, but the Isles conceded just one shot. The period finished with nine shots on goal apiece.
Second Period: That Changed Quickly
Ovechkin tied it early in the second after Leddy's skate caught in a rut as he tried a reverse in the corner to the left of the Isles net. He was double-teamed with the Isles slow to read the play, and Evgeny Kuznetsov swooped in to take the puck behind the net and skate away from Tavares before making a great turnaround pass against the grain to a wide open Ovechkin.
Soon after, the Capitals received their second power play on a boarding penalty by Cal Clutterbuck on Dimtry Orlov that was both costly and #HitsWilsonNeverDoes (if you're a Caps fan). The Caps cashed in quickly, Ovechkin ripping a shot by Thomas Greiss from the high slot after an easy zone entry.
Hickey and Wilson then went to the box for coincidental roughings after Wilson took Hickey hard into the boards away from the puck. They continued their jawing from the clutches of the linesmen and well into their time of the box, an exercise that looks exhausting in itself.
Brooks Laich put the Isles on the power play with a slash on Matt Martin right after Clutterbuck hilariously intercepted a home run pass from Casey Cizikas that might've gotten Martin a breakaway. But they didn't generate much with that man advantage, and the final quarter was extinguished when Ryan Strome rode his stick to jaw level while trying to check TJ Oshie.
Greiss made that penalty kill all the harder when he cleared the puck over the glass, creating 57 seconds of 5-on-3 that the Isles killed well.
Still, with two early goals and ample power play time, the Caps finished the second period with a 2-1 lead after a 14-4 shot advantage in the middle frame.
Third Period: Life
If you expected the Caps' dominance to continue or the Islanders to respond with a furious comeback, you got neither. Instead, the third was played almost in running time, flying by with only one penalty (on Brock Nelson). The Islanders mounted more pressure than they had in the second, but Holtby was there.
...until there were about two minutes to go, when a cross-zone flip by Marcus Johansson was picked up by Travis Hamonic. His shot was stopped by Holtby, but the rebound found Frans Nielsen, who scored from a tight angle to tie the game at 2. He followed with a family unfriendly celebration.
The last minute and change passed with a few chances that Greiss stopped to preserve the tie. The Capitals had scored in 20 straight third periods before tonight.
Overtime: Hey, it could have been worse
The Islanders couldn't carry any momentum into overtime, which started with Ovechkin ringing a LOUD shot off the post that could be heard in Queens. He had another slapper later that Greiss just barely got a piece of. The Islanders' best chances came off a Nielsen shift in which a puck also went just wide of Holtby and Johnny Boychuk had a good slapshot right on net that was stopped.
But with about a minute left, Justin Williams won it with a long shot from the top of circles that either went in clean or was either deflected by Niklas Backstrom, who was lurking near Greiss, or by Hamonic, who was between Williams and Greiss. You decide:
In five minutes, the Islanders went from no points to one. With the Rangers and Penguins winning tonight, one point is better than nothing. They get another chance at two divisional points tomorrow in New Jersey.
Travis Hamonic, on the eternally elusive nature of hockey:
"It's a game where it's up and down and as much as you'd like to, you're not going to completely dominate a team all 60 minutes. But you have to handle it in waves and be able to come back and push yourself and I thought we did that honestly, overtime is what it is I guess."
Frans Nielsen, on philosophy and playing poorly:
"[nice to get a point but] we definitely didn't play our best game. When you don't play well you have to work even harder, but we didn't do that either. On bad nights like this we have to find a way to be tougher to play against, and the good thing about hockey is it's a new game tomorrow."