Playoff Preview: Islanders vs. Capitals

During the 1980s, it seemed as if the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals met every spring in the NHL playoffs. Now, the old Patrick Division rivals will rekindle the postseason rivalry in this year’s playoffs.
Here is the schedule for the best-of-7 series:

Game 1 — April 15 at Washington, 7 p.m.
Game 2 — April 17 at Washington, 7 p.m.
Game 3 — April 19 at New York, noon
Game 4 — April 21 at New York, 7:30 p.m.
x-Game 5 — April 23 at Washington, TBD
x-Game 6 — April 25 at New York, TBD
x-Game 7 — April 27 at Washington, TBD
x–if necessary

Both teams finished the regular season with 101 points. They each won twice in their head-to-head matchups on home ice:

Nov. 26 at NYI — Islanders, 3-2 OT. John Tavares scores game-winner with :24 left.
Nov. 28 at Wash — Capitals, 5-2. Tied, 2-2, after the first period, Washington scores game’s final three goals.
Dec. 29 at NYI — Islanders, 4-3 OT. Islanders squander 3-0 lead in third period, but Johnny Boychuk scores game-winner at 2:53 of OT.
Feb. 21 at Wash — Capitals, 3-2 SO. Ryan Strome scores tying goal with 47.8 seconds left in regulation, but Caps win in shootout.

These teams have played some memorable playoff series over the years. In 1985, the Islanders lost the first two games of the best-of-5 Patrick Division semifinals in overtime, but rallied to win the next three games and the series. There was Pat LaFontaine’s goal in the fourth overtime of Game 7 of the 1987 Patrick semifinals, ending what is known as the “Easter Epic.” The 1993 Patrick semifinal is remembered for the late hit the Capitals’ Dale Hunter delivered to the Islanders’ Pierre Turgeon after Turgeon scored the series-clinching goal in Game 6.

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This series has the potential to be another classic.

The Islanders are 5-1 all-time in the playoffs against the Capitals. Washington’s lone win was a three-game sweep in the 1986 Patrick semifinals.

If the Islanders are to continue their playoff success against the Capitals, here are five keys they need to do:

Negate Eight

Alex Ovechkin led the NHL this season with 53 goals. The Islanders defense cannot allow him to go crazy in the series. They have to limit him as best as possible, which of course is easier said than done.

Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin - Photo By Andy Martin Jr
Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin – Photo By Andy Martin Jr

This is where the past playoff experience of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy will be key. That’s one of the reasons why GM Garth Snow brought the two of them here this season. But the status of Travis Hamonic could be a problem for the Islanders. He suffered a lower-body injury in the penultimate game against Pittsburgh.

Stay out of the box

Twenty-five of Ovechkin’s goals came on the power play as the Capitals ranked first in the league in that category at 25.3 percent. The Islanders’ penalty kill was 26th in the league at 78.0 percent. They need to play disciplined and avoid bad penalties, thus giving the potent Capitals man-advantage opportunities.

Secondary scoring

John Tavares led the Islanders and was second in the league in scoring with 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists). Over the final six games, he helped carry the Islanders to the playoffs with 12 points

Kyle Okposo, John Tavares, NHL, Milestones, New York Islanders
Led by Kyle Okposo and John Tavares, the New York Islanders have been a resilient bunch, and it has helped them become one of the most successful teams in the NHL. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

(4G, 8A). But he can’t do it alone. One has to figure Tavares and Ovechkin, the two superstars, will cancel each other out. That means the series could come down to another player coming up big. For the Capitals, that could be Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson or Troy Brouwer. For the Islanders, they need the likes of a Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson or Anders Lee to step up.

Goaltending

Jaroslav Halak won 38 games this season to set an Islanders single-season record. Both times the Islanders beat the Capitals during the regular season, Halak was between the pipes. He needs to shake off the struggles he had down the stretch and stand tall in net. He might have to steal a 1-0 or 2-1 game in the series. Conversely, the Islanders need to keep the pressure on Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and pepper him with shots.

Get the jump on ’em

The Islanders have had a penchant for squandering leads. It is a reason why they do not have home ice in the series. If they get a lead, they need to hold onto it, especially since the Capitals were just 8-24-7 this season when the opposition scored first. But Washington was 37-2-4 when it scored first this season. The Islanders were 29-15-5 when scoring first and 18-13-2 when trailing first.