The New York Islanders topped the Washington Capitals 5-2 Friday night, taking a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.
Despite a slow start, and Alex Ovechkin putting the Capitals on the board in the first minute of the game, the Islanders outworked the Capitals in every way from then on.
After a physical, and emotional Game 1 that saw Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom go down to injury, the Islanders won a more fast-paced hockey game in Game 2. The Islanders held the edge on special teams, going 1-for-5 on the power play, and 2-for-2 on the penalty kill.
“They’re a big, strong team and they’re going to have pushes,” center Brock Nelson said. “As much as we can stay on them and play our grind game, get some offensive zone time, get possession, jam up the neutral zone, it’s going to be frustrating for anybody.”(from ‘Islanders outwork Capitals for Game 2 win,’ Newsday, 08/14/2020)
Semyon Varlamov turned aside 23 shots, and Braden Holtby made 27 saves for the Capitals.
Despite being unable to keep Ovechkin out of the goal column (twice), the Islanders are halfway to a first-round victory, after a game where they out-shot the Capitals 32-25.
Nick Leddy, Matt Martin and Nelson all scored in the second period, giving the Islanders a 3-2 lead going into the third.
Nelson’s breakaway goal was the eventual game-winner, and the Isles would suffocate the Capitals in the third period, shutting the door on Game 2.
Despite a 10 hit performance from Capitals forward Tom Wilson, the Islanders out-hit Washington 38-34, in what was a considerably less chippy game.
Strong Third Periods
In both Games 1 and 2, the Islanders have stuck to their identity, the Barry Trotz system. Their bread and butter in finding success. Regardless of how the Capitals have played, the Isles have been able to keep them at bay, especially in the third period.
“The two third periods have kind of been the best periods of our game and I think it’s going to be important that we can get off to better starts,” said Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock. “We’ve done a good job in the third of staying aggressive at the right times and kind of clogging things up and staying to our structure.”
After two periods with no penalties, the Islanders killed off a crucial pair of them in the third period and gave the Capitals no room to breathe at 5-on-5.
In true Trotz fashion, the Islanders blocked 18 shots, seven of which came in the third period.
“We’re playing to our identity,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “The two games have been a little bit different … there was a little more flow in this game. I just think that we’ve got a good, mature group that doesn’t get fazed.”
At 17:14 in the third period, Cal Clutterbuck redirected a J.G. Pageau shot past Holtby, giving the Islanders some insurance, and Anders Lee would seal the deal with an empty-net goal just over a minute later.
Strength Down Low
After the Islanders took the lead, they didn’t take their foot off the gas, continuing to drive pucks deep into the offensive zone. A strong shift by Casey Cizikas and Lee (who took Martin’s spot on the fourth line for a shift), led to the insurance goal by Clutterbuck.
“I liked our third period,” Trotz said. “You look at the strength down low, Anders Lee, who’s our captain, he kept the puck down there for about 30 seconds, and you’ve got Leo [Komarov] and Brass (Derick Brassard), that’s how you win. The guys are committed to that effort. … We didn’t back off. We just stayed to our game and we got the result we wanted.”
The Islanders veterans have led the way playing key roles in the last two wins over the Capitals, locking down and deflating their opponents to close out games.
The Capitals are unsure of Backstrom’s status for Game 3. Lars Eller looked to be in some discomfort during Game 2, after missing the first game of the series. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has been the Capitals number one center this series, has been held to just one point over two contests.
When leading 2-0 in a playoff series, teams are 324-51 (86.4 percent) winning a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Playoff series. The Islanders will look to capitalize and take a 3-0 lead on a flat Capitals team Sunday afternoon.
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James is a THW New York Islanders writer and podcast host of Nassaumen Hockey Podcast. A trusted source for Islanders content for many years at THW, James is passionate about keeping Islander fans up to date on the latest in Islanders news. Other content contributions also include his Co-Editor-in-Chief status for NYIslesBlog.com. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow James on Twitter.