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Islanders 5 (EN), Capitals 2: New York continues to frustrate Washington in Game 2

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This time the Isles came back much earlier, and spent the rest of the night sucking the life out of the Caps.

Washington Capitals v New York Islanders - Game Two
Winning playoff games in Toronto never gets old.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals aimed to deliver an emphatic counterpunch after blowing a third-period lead to lose Game 1. Though the recent Cup champs started Game 2 like they might get their wish, the New York Islanders withstood early pressure and methodically chipped away at the Capitals’ spirit to win Game 2, 5-2.

The game was closer than that late- and empty-net-inflated score might suggest, but the Islanders generally put on a masterclass on the Trotz Theory of Hockey.

Dominant? Not exactly the word, not with their limited level of high-end talent (and my limited vocabulary). But methodical, territorial, strategic, resilient and ultimately completely — delightfully — frustrating to the foes who used to have Barry Trotz on their side. The Isles followed their recipe to a ‘T’ on the way to taking a 2-0 series lead.

It’s now up to the Capitals to figure out a different approach. Which, you’d expect a contending team to be able to do that. And of course, they famously reversed an opening 0-2 series deficit the year they won it all.

So it will be fascinating to see where this series goes next. This is a weird year (the two most recent Cup champions are each down 0-2 in their series following uninspiring round-robin play), and everything is unfamiliar.

Except how Trotz wants his troops deployed. That’s quite familiar to everyone involved in this series.

[NHL Game Center | Game Summary | Event Summary]

First Period: Tough Start, Promising Recovery

The Capitals got on the board first by pouncing on an opportune bounce. A rim dump-in took a crazy bounce off the base of the corner boards to go through Scott Mayfield’s feet, then take Casey Cizikas by surprise, too. Alex Ovechkin was coming with speed, pulled away from Cizikas with the puck and slipped a backhand by Semyon Varlamov.

It all happened so fast, and just 56 seconds into the game. Varlamov was deep in his net. It was...not a pretty finish.

With teams at 4-on-4, the Islanders soon had a good chance for an equalizer when the Capitals took a too many men penalty. (Math, paradoxically, gets even harder when you go from 5-on-5 to 4-on-4.) The Isles registered no official shots on that power play, but did set up some good looks for Jordan Eberle and Anthony Beauvillier, whose shots did not reach Braden Holtby.

After that, the Capitals resuemd trying to build off their good opening, but the Isles slowly found their game and were getting the better of play for the second half of the period.

Second Period: Things Happening Quickly

The Islanders continued where they left off to begin the second period. An early high-sticking penalty put the Isles on the power play, which gave Nick Leddy a chance to reintroduce himself.

Leddy’s shot from the point tied it at 1-1 at 2:56. Anthony Beauvillier’s second assist on the goal made him the first Islander to begin the playoffs with six straight games since Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier during the dynasty.

Just two minutes later, the fourth line put in a strong shift resulting in a 2-1 lead. Cal Clutterbuck was stopped on a prime chance, but shortly afterward Matt Martin redirected Scott Mayfield’s pass in from the right wing corner.

The Islanders were flying, and continued to control play with the lead. But then Leo Komarov happened.

The stone-handed disturber hit the post on a sweet, eminently buriable setup by Derick Brassard. That led to the first sustained offensive zone possession by the Capitals in a while, where they knotted things up. Alex Ovechkin tipped a point shot by Brenden Dillon, who was allowed all kinds of time to wind up, pause, and time his shot for Ovechkin’s drive-by.

But, man, this just feels different. Or weird. If you thought the Isles good breaks were wasted, well 15 seconds later they were ahead again. I let the dog out to curse the tying goal, I got back into the room to see the lead was restored.

As I’d learn, Jakub Vrana’s poor decision at the offensive blueline created a breakaway for Brock Nelson, who did his cool-and-calm routine in casually beating Holtby stick-side.

A really stupid Garnet Hathaway check-from-behind on Matt Greene gave the Islanders a chance to extend the lead, but the power play came up empty, with Leddy getting another chance on his old stomping ground. It came up empty again late in the period after another Capitals too many men penalty.

That’s where things stood at the end of the second period, the Isles up 3-2 but tempting fate by not cashing in on a lopsided penalty ledger, as the Capitals had yet to have a man advantage.

Third Period: Bend for the PP, then Put Them Away

The Capitals began the third with a dominant couple of shifts. They hemmed the Islanders in and came in waves. Evgeny Kuznetsov waltzed through the slot to give himself a great opening for a backhand, but he passed instead. The pass would’ve created a sure goal had it connected, but it was way off target. Maybe that’s the kind of poor accuracy that leads you to mistrust your backhand.

Then the inevitable Capitals power play opportunity came, on a soft call against Ryan Pulock after checking Richard Panik in open ice. But what followed was perhaps the Isles’ best penalty kill of the playoffs. Anticipation, disruption, clear. Repeat.

The Capitals received their next Required Minimum Distribution power play after Andy Greene’s stick helped Kuznetsov down on a rush through the slot. That power play was much better run by the Caps, though it produced no official shots. That stat is in part because Ovechkin did not technically, uh, hit the net on this chance:

That Caps power play ended with a tired but opportunistic Nelson and Josh Bailey trying to victimize an equally tired Ovechkin as the lone “defenseman” back. But Ovechkin got a stick on Bailey’s backhand try to end the threat.

The Islanders did their Trotzian thing and continued to frustrate the Capitals at even strength. A particularly nuisance-making shift by Komarov made the Caps have to work overtime just to retrieve the puck behind their own goal line.

That eventually led to a golden chance for Casey Cizikas to get an insurance goal from the doorstep, but Holtby closed his arm to make the save in tight.

Still, the Islanders continued to just work the Caps down low. Ovechkin spent a good 10 seconds standing in his own slot waiting for the battles below his goal line to end so the Cpas could counterattack. But the Isles wouldn’t let it happen. (Seriously, they Would. Not. Let it. Happen. Check this clip h/t commenter dl2316)

Finally, J-G Pageau’s pass deflected off a stick and then off Cal Clutterbuck’s arm to beat Holtby and complete the deflation.

Anders Lee then added an empty netter from center ice. For good measure.

Other Things

  • Adam Pelech had another effective, quiet, but also very physical game. TJ Oshie was checking a lot, Wilson was trying to hit everything, Hathaway was doing his dirty best. It was nice to have Pelech providing a target who gave back often, even if by simply making sure Capitals checkers felt the force of their own efforts.
  • Speaking of the Physical Stuff: As noted above, the heavy hitting continued from the first game. But it’s clear the Capitals aren’t getting into the Islanders’ heads. Matt Martin took the only penalty by the Islanders’ traditional physical guys, and that was an unsportsmanlike after Hathaway’s check from behind on Greene that gave the refs cover to give Hathaway four minutes. Among many other facets, this is the steady mindset and culture Trotz sought to instill when he arrived, and it’s a noticeable contrast to his more volatile predecessors.
  • Speaking of Pelech: Andy Greene was acquired to provide a sturdy emergency replacement when Pelech went down, for what looked at that pre-pandemic time like the rest of the season. Yada yada yada, Pelech is back and in fine form, and Greene is doing outstanding as an upgrade over the 2020 version of Johnny Boychuk.
  • Varlamov had a pretty strong game. I can’t say I’m filled with “game saver” confidence in him, but he can definitely give them a chance each game, and he’s certainly having a better series than his counterpart.
  • I think each of us has said it a bunch in these recaps, but man, MAN is it nice to have four strong centers. Remember these nights whenever the trade or contract price for Pageau is brought up in the coming years.
  • Like seeing Patrick Marleau in a Penguins uniform, every time I hear Ilya Kovalchuk’s name mentioned I instinctively utter “What? Oh...that’s right, he’s there now.” He logged an unremarkable 8:16.

Up Next

The Islanders will be the “home” team for Game 3 at noon on Sunday. That’s, obviously, a pretty pivotal big deal.