If today’s contest ends up being the final game played at the Nassau Coliseum, the New York Islanders made sure to close out their 43 year residence in style. New York not only staved off elimination with the 3-1 win, but pushed the Washington Capitals to a Game 7 on Monday night at the Verizon Center.
From the opening puck-drop, the Islanders played with the energy and physicality of a team that, frankly speaking, was desperate to continue their season. It was not surprising then, at least to anyone who had paid attention to this series, that Isles head coach Jack Capuano sent out the “best fourth line in hockey history” of Casey Czikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin to set a tone. And yes, once again, Clutterbuck and Martin combined to tally the highest hit totals in the game, with 18 between of the two of them.
One of the most-discussed storylines coming into Saturday’s contest was the depleted defense of the Islanders: Travis Hamonic, Calvin DeHann, and Lubomir Visnovsky were scratches for New York, and were replace in part by two call-ups from Bridgeport: Matt Donovan and Scott Mayfield. Despite coming into the proceedings with practically zero playoff experience between them, Donovan and Mayfield made the most of their 10 minutes of TOI: bringing a grit and size component to the Islanders defense that had been lacking at times in this series.
After the beating the Islanders handily in almost every facet of the game on Thursday night in Washington, one might have expected a let down in terms of discipline and poise from the Capitals. Instead, Washington managed to play even with New York for the majority of Game 6; handling the initial Islander surge and enthusiastic crowd, and going on to outshoot the Islanders (16-9) and score the tying goal off their third power play attempt in the first period.
Washington continued to press the Islanders, but were denied again and again by Jaroslav Halak, and didn’t receive the benefit of another power play attempt after the first period had concluded. Capitals forward Jay Beagle had the best chance of tying the game with 5 and a 1/2 minutes left in the third: but after an official review his shot attempt was correctly assessed as having hit the crossbar, and failing to cross the goal line.
Washington and Holtby did manage to hold off New York until halfway through the third period, in which the Capitals were caught off guard in the aftermath of a brutal hit on Tavares; failing to pick up a streaking Nikolai Kulemin, who received the feed from Nick Leddy and found himself in a 1 on 1 scenario with Holtby; seconds later it was the Islanders who took a lead they wouldn’t give up. New York’s Cal Clutterbuck would later take home his second goal of the series with an empty-netter effort at 19:07, further cementing the Islander’s fourth line as their most effective in this first round.
Saturday afternoon again saw solid play from both of the opposing goaltenders; Braden Holtby incurred similar stats to his counterpart, but was bailed out of trouble multiple times from a few favorable Washington bounces of the puck. As for the Islanders, Jaroslav Halak was fantastic: giving up only one goal from the 39 shots he faced.
Obviously this was Halak’s first elimination game opportunity while with the Islanders, but with Saturday’s performance, he improved to a 6-1 record all time in such situations, giving hope to Islanders fans that he will be able to continue the positive trend on Monday night in Washington.
John Tavares accepted responsibility for Thursday’s night loss, and stated afterwards that he would personally have to do better. Well, the Islanders captain did just that, scoring at 6:56 of the first period to give the Islanders the first lead of the game for the fourth time in six games. While Tavares has not scored goals at the rate with which many expected for this series, as of today Tavares is averaging a point per game so far in these 2015 playoffs.
With the Islanders secondary scoring coming in bunches, Tavares could very well have to continue playing assertively as the series concludes on Monday, if the Islanders have any chance at advancing.