The Washington Capitals are two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup and still have the core of that championship-winning team in place, including the most gifted goal-scorer of his generation.
But the New York Islanders will be the team with short- and long-term history on their side.
The Islanders look to finish off a sweep of the Capitals in Game 4 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinals series Tuesday night at Toronto.
The Islanders took a commanding series lead Sunday, when Mathew Barzal scored at 4:28 of overtime to lift New York to a 2-1 win.
The Islanders are up 3-0 in a playoff series for the second straight year. New York completed a sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in an Eastern Conference quarterfinals series last April with a 3-1 win in Game 4.
“I don’t know if it’s going to help,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said of being up 3-0 again. “But I do know it’s not going to hurt.”
While the Islanders are not yet pondering who they could play in the conference semifinals, there’s no denying their situation is far less painful than the one faced by the Capitals. Entering this season, 188 of the 192 NHL teams to take a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series won the series.
“There’s no tougher game than a game to clinch a series, and it’s going to be no different in Game 4 here,” said Islanders captain Anders Lee, who scored in the first period Sunday afternoon. “It’s going to be a tough, tough game. We played a good one tonight, and we were able to come out on top, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do to make this thing right.”
The Capitals are down 3-0 for the first time since being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011 conference semifinals.
Washington has been outshot 75-53 in 5-on-5 play in the series and has scored just two 5-on-5 goals – both in Game 2 by Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading active goal-scorer. Ovechkin’s first goal came a mere 56 seconds after faceoff and his second was a redirect of a slap shot by Brenden Dillon.
“In order to have success in the playoffs, you need to create that overwhelming feeling for the other team and just come at them in waves,” Capitals right winger Tom Wilson said Sunday afternoon. “I don’t think, for whatever reason, we’ve done that yet and it’s important that in the playoffs, you need every single guy, you need the whole team to create that identity where it’s tough on the other team. And I think we can still do a better job with that.”
In addition, the Islanders have dominated play in the third period – and beyond – in all three games. New York has outscored Washington 6-0 after the second period and limited the Capitals to just six shots in the third period and overtime on Sunday.
Things will have to change, and fast, if the Capitals want to avoid becoming history and make it instead.
“It’s a hard situation, but it’s not over yet,” Ovechkin said. “For us right now, it’s nothing to lose, right? So we just have to go out there and play. Don’t think about the score in the series. We’re going to take it game by game. We have experience. A (few) teams did it and we believe in ourselves.”
–Field Level Media