The New York Islanders experienced the highest of highs Sunday at the Coliseum, and followed it up by reaching the lows of lows Tuesday night, falling to the Washington Capitals 2-1 in overtime on Long Island.
The heroics of Game 3 were not to be this evening, as Nicklas Backstrom scored at 11:09 of the extra session; his third such goal of his career. The score marked the first of any kind since the final seconds of the first period, when Casey Cizikas tipped in a Braden Holtby rebound to knot things up at 1 goal apiece heading into the intermission.
From that point on, it was playoff hockey at its absolute best; unfortunately the Islanders came out on the losing side.
The final minutes of the third period, and opening half of overtime marked some of the most frantic, up and down play the Islanders have experienced this season. It became apparent quickly into overtime that fatigue was playing a major factor: and that things were going to come to a head quickly. Backstroke won a face-off in the Islanders zone; the following shot attempt from Alexander Ovechkin went wide of the net, which allowed Backstroke to regain control of the puck.
After (another!) John Tavares stick break, Backstroke was able to throw a shot at Jaroslav Halak from just inside the blue line; Halak never picked it up and Washington reclaimed the home-ice advantage once more heading back to DC.
From the Islanders perspective, there is one component of their offense that has absolutely dominated attention (and deservedly so) in this series: the fourth line. Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck continued their torrid play, leveling hit upon hit upon the Capitals, almost completely to a chorus of cheers from the supportive Nassau crowd. Martin and Clutterbuck one again lead both squads in hits, with 9 and 7 respectively, and if a Clutterbuck short-handed shot attempt had been about an inch lower, the fourth line would have tallied 2 goals.
Jack Capuano’s strategy of putting the fourth line out after any score by either team has been paying dividends in this first round of the playoffs: and if the Islanders are to advance in this series, that group will need to continue their excellent performance to this point.
If there is any part of this game that the Islanders will lose sleep over, it will be the continued failure of the power play to do anything of note. New York received almost 6 straight minutes of PP opportunities in the second period, but was stymied by the Washington penalty kill, Washington forced the Islanders to retreat to the outside, rarely allowing New York chances to get in deep and put pressure on Holtby.
Playoff hockey sees fare less penalties called in general; so to see the Islanders fail to take advantage of the station is undoubtedly frustrating to the coaches and players.
As the Islanders power play continues to work itself out; it seems that they will not be able to do with the services of Lubomir Visnovsky. Visnovsky left the game at 5:54 in the second, after being absolutely leveled by Capital winger Tom Wilson. For Visnovsky, this marks the second straight game of him being on the receiving end of a crushing hit: and while he returned to the ice in Game 3, the outlook moving forward from tonight is not as positive.
There has been a question posed by Isles fans this year of just whether or not Jaroslav Halak would be come playoff time. While Halak gave up the winning tally this evening, his play demonstrably proves he has the skills to steal a game for the Islanders if need be. Halak faced 30 shots; turning away all but two of them, but his individual plays stood out.
A diving stop on Ovechkin, in which Halak lunged across the crease to somehow coral an Ovechkin tip-in attempt might have been one of the most athleticc saves of his time on the Island. The Islanders will need this version of Halak as the series moves back to the Verizon Center.
The immediate reaction from the locker room was one of disappointment, but also focus. While the team assuredly is disappointed that they failed to take a strong lead in this series, Game 5 marks a huge turning point for this particular version of the New York Islanders. Win, and they can clinch the series at the Coliseum. Lose, and it’s all hands on deck.