It Game 3 had ended in 60 minutes at the Nassau Coliseum, well then it wouldn’t have been the 2015 New York Islanders.
Regulation was not enough for the Islanders and Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon; but John Tavares also decided that a full length overtime was not necessary either: scoring the game-winning tally off a Braden Holtby rebound a mere 15 seconds into the extra period. The Nassau Coliseum erupted, and the Islanders skated off with a 2-1 advantage in their first round series with Washington. Tavares’ goal marked the first overtime playoff win for the Islanders since the 1993 playoffs, when David Volek ended the burgeoning Pittsburgh Penguins dynasty in similar dramatic fashion.
Returning to the old barn brought with it a surge in energy from New York for most of the game; the opening period saw the Islanders credited with 10 shots on goal before Washington was able to muster a single shot of their own. When all was said and done, New York more than doubled their shot totals from Game 2 (finishing with 42), and if not for the incredibly solid play of Braden Holtby could have made this game into a blowout early on. The Islanders held court in the Capitals zone for long stretches at a time, and there were a handful of close calls for Holtby, yet Washington managed to stave off the Islander onslaught long enough to allow New York to enter into a brief lull in the third.
Not coincidentally, when New York was unable to maintain their offensive pace in the third period, Washington responded with some tenacity, and it paid off when Nicklas Backstrom managed to get one past Jaroslav Halak, tying the game six minutes and change left to go. The Islanders inability to hold leads this season has been well-documented, and once again one could tell a measure of doubt had crept across the sell-out crowd. However the Islanders reasserted themselves post-goal, and made a late third period push that resulted in a few scoring opportunities that just didn’t go the Islanders way.
The Islanders established a physical presence early on, and refused to let up; the 4th Line in particular seemingly left no Capitals skater without receiving some measure of punishment. Clutterbuck, Martin and Cizikas demonstrated to a national audience just why some had labeled them as “the best fourth line ever”, while Kyle Okposo continued his resurgence post-retina surgery. Okposo not only showed off his tremendous puck handling prowess, but used his 6 ft 216 lb frame to bully the smaller forwards matched up against him; as well as inflict some pain of his own by knocking Capitals center Eric Fehr from the game.
The Islanders much-maligned penalty kill continued it’s quality play as of late: denying the Capitals a score on 3 power play opportunities. It has become clear through the first three games of the series that Islanders have no intention of letting Alexander Ovechkin beat them from the left circle; and that philosophy extends beyond just the penalty kill. With Travis Harmonic continuing to miss games, Johnny Boychuk was assigned the task of defending #8, and rose to the challenge in a major way. His amazing defensive, diving play to not only squash a tremendous power play opportunity for Washington, but end the 2nd period brought the Coliseum audience to their feet. Ovechkin rarely received the time/space to be able to put quality shots on net, and thus far has not been the dominating force that the Capitals need him to be.
Game 4 marks a critical contest for both teams: a win for New York and the Islanders head back to DC with a commanding 3-1 series lead; a win for the Capitals and they take back the home-ice advantage. For the Islanders sake, they’ll certainly hope that the dramatics and fireworks of Game 3 don’t repeat themselves. Washington will come to play with their season on the line, and how the Islanders respond will reveal just how far this team can go in this 2015 NHL playoffs.