The Isles scored early to take the first lead, and scored early in the third to restore a tie, but Holtby withstood their attacks and the Capitals pounced late to score the winner and turn all their efforts to naught.
The Capitals' dominance at the top of the Metropolitan Division continues unbothered. The Islanders' six-way fight for the Metro's other playoff spots wasn't going to change tonight, win lose or shootout.
As It Happened
The Islanders opened scoring early in what was a strong start in close battle reminiscent of so many of last spring's playoff games. Mikhail Grabovski again cashed in the fruits of playing on the top line by knocking in a rebound at 1:55 for his ninth goal of the season.
It was a well-played and physical first period by both sides. Anders Lee and, memorably, Thomas Hickey found ol' "not that kind of player" Tom Wilson, TJ Oshie made sure to find John Tavares, Michael Latta caught Travis Hamonic in that vulnerable mid-distance from the corner boards,
(The tone thus set, occasional hits continued occasionally in the other two periods, including Matt Niskanen on Tavares in front of the Caps bench in the third period.)
Given the Capitals' dominance in the league this season, the Isles had an impressive amount of possession and zone time but got caught on a few counterattacks. One of them tied the game 1-1 at 7:28 when Nicklas Backstrom patiently found TJ Oshie alone in front of the net.
Another major chance was stopped by Jaroslav Halak in the second period when Latta blocked Hickey's shot at the blueline and had an uncontested breakaway plus a rebound.
But just when it looked like the second period would finish scoreless, a Capitals rush was stopped, then allowed to succeed on its fumes with 1:18 remaining in the period. Jason Chimera, blocked out by Halak to behind the net, chipped it behind Halak and off his pads to rest in the crease. Breaking a cardinal rule, the Isles had all turned away from the goal; Hamonic left the net to finish a check on Chimera (which is upholding a different cardinal rule, but still...).
Andre Burakovsky was all alone to poke the puck over the line and give the Caps a 2-1 lead at the intermission -- which felt a little unfair, as shots were 14-14 but attempts and possession were in the Isles' favor after 40 minutes. This wasn't a "oh, all those shots were from outside" deal either. The Isles worked the puck inside well, but Barry Trotz's team was doing the Nashville, or the Capuano, hunkering down and blocking shots.
But to restore the fun, the Isles started the third well and Josh Bailey tied it with two Caps watching him at the top of the crease at 5:38. The Islanders' pressure continued for much of the third period until 2:40 remained, when they left Alex Ovechkin alone in the high slot.
That's not a recommended move.
Ovechkin's one-timer beat Halak to give Washington a 3-2 lead. When you're hot you're hot, and the Caps are having that kind of season even when getting outplayed.
The Isles did have one last gasp, a nice gift power play when John Carlson flipped the puck over the glass. The Isles bombarded Holtby, and Caps defenders, and each other with shots throughout the power play. They had their best players out there, and a Capitals timeout let them keep them out with Halak pulled for an extra attacker, but it wasn't enough.
A well-played match. A fun game for neutrals. A close one, like most games last spring. But the wrong result, again.
Cal Clutterbuck limped his way to the locker room in the third after sliding feet first into the corner boards and having his right ankle/knee do things you can't even do to an action figure. He returned, but with a busy schedule don't be surprised if that one is filed away as "lower body soreness" sometime soon.
The Isles have afternoon back-to-backs this weekend, on the road in Detroit and at home to the Oilers.