Had you asked a New York Islanders fan if they would have been happy to split the opening two games of the playoffs in Washington; the answer would have been an unqualified “YES YES YES” And yet, despite the Islanders skating out of D.C. with a 1-1 series, the team has to feel a measure of disappointment in dropping Friday night’s game 4-3 to the Washington Capitals.
Take the positives that were on display Wednesday at the Verizon Center, and remove them from the equation; that is what Game Two looked like for the Islanders. The trends from the second half of the season that led to the team’s less than stellar play reared their head again Friday night: two blown two-goal leads, an inability to get the puck out of their zone, and a handful of moments of poor decision making. Despite taking a 3-2 lead into the third period, there was a general sense that if the Islanders weren’t able to step up their level of play, the Washington comeback was a foregone conclusion.
With the pre-game news that Braden Holty would miss Game Two: the Islanders had to feel that they held an edge on Washington in net. Jaroslav Halak had only allowed a single goal on Wednesday night, and despite a few minor miscues played solidly for the Islanders.
Game Two certainly did not see an Islanders squad that provided much help for their goaltender: of particular note would be Nicklas Backstrom practically skating into Halak’s crease unscathed to score on Washington’s second power play. And while Philip Grubauer was hardly spectacular tonight, he did withstand a late third period surge from the Isles and turned aside the seven shots on goal he would face from them.
Give credit to the Capitals: their energy level was the polar opposite from Game One, and the team refused to allow the Islanders to control the pace of play; dominating possession and pumping shot after shot on Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Granted, two of the Capital’s scores came from possessions in which Islanders defensemen broke their stick, essentially creating a pseudo-power play attempt for the Capitals.
And speaking of the PP, the 1st ranked unit broke through for the first time in this series: with Nicklas Backstrom scoring at 3:44 in the third period to bring the Capitals even with New York, and they never looked back.
The secondary scoring surge for the Islanders did continue in Game Two; Cal Clutterbuck opened things up for the Isles, scoring off a 2 on 1 breakaway roughly 5 minutes into the first period. Strome and Okposo followed Clutterbuck’s lead, punching in goals high on the glove side of Grubauer.
Unfortunately, once Okposo had briefly quieted the Washington crowd 14 minutes into the second period, the Islanders were unable to create sustained scoring opportunities the rest of the way; with the Capitals forcing the Islanders to dump the puck into the corners and keeping it there without much movement back to the point.
Game One was a victory for the Islanders in every sense of the word; not only did they take home the “W” but they won the individual battles and dictated the pace of the game. While they may have held the lead for two periods in Game Two, this was not a contest the Islanders deserved to win. Washington outworked, outshot, and outhit New York, and earned their series split.
The next time these two face off will be the playoff home opener at the Nassau Coliseum; what the Islanders do with the home-ice will be up to them but we do know one thing: it’s sure going to be loud.