With a three-games-to-none lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series and a two-goal advantage early in the first period of Game 4, the New York Islanders appeared primed to advance to the second round of the playoffs Tuesday night.
But nobody has to tell New York coach Barry Trotz how hard it is to finish off a team with a championship pedigree like the one possessed by the Washington Capitals.
The Islanders will once again try to eliminate the Capitals on Thursday, when the two teams face off in Game 5 in Toronto.
The Islanders scored twice in the first 10 minutes of the first period in Game 4 before the Capitals scored the game’s final three goals — the last two by captain Alex Ovechkin — to stave off elimination with a 3-2 win.
Mathew Barzal’s goal at 9:16 of the first put the Islanders ahead 2-0. But the Capitals regained the momentum after head coach Todd Reirden — who succeeded Trotz behind the bench when Trotz resigned after steering Washington to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history in the spring of 2018 — called timeout.
The Capitals outshot the Islanders 28-21 the rest of the way and dictated the flow by forcing usually disciplined New York into four second-period penalties. Washington’s first goal, by Evgeny Kuznetsov, was scored in four-on-four play 3:35 into the second. Ovechkin scored the tying goal during a power play 1:54 later.
The go-ahead goal by Ovechkin 3:40 into the third was the first goal the Capitals scored after the second period in the series. Washington, which allowed 32 shots in the third period and overtime of the first three games, limited the Islanders to just six shots in the third on Tuesday, including two after goalie Semyon Varlamov was pulled for the extra attacker.
“The playoffs are all about momentum, they’re all about adjustments, they’re all about those moments and how you react to them,” Trotz said Wednesday afternoon. “I didn’t think we reacted very good (Tuesday) night. We didn’t have enough push. We didn’t have enough will to meet a good desperate team.
“Washington — I know a lot about that core. There’s obviously some real strong character there, and they weren’t going away.”
Nor are the Capitals — with 11 players remaining from the Cup-winning squad — intimidated by the task ahead of them. Only four of the 195 NHL teams to fall into an 0-3 hole in a best-of-seven series have come back to win the series, but Washington is confident it can replicate the effort it displayed Tuesday night.
“Obviously any comeback is exciting, but I think it’s more the way we played the second and third periods,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. “That’s the key to our ability to come back and win this series. If we play every period like that, it’s going to be really, really hard to beat us, because we had everyone going, everyone pulling on the same rope. And our job now is to make sure that filters over into the next game.”
–Field Level Media