UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Islanders beat the Capitals 2–1 in overtime at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Sunday afternoon and will take a two-games-to-one series lead into Game 4 on Tuesday night at home. Here are three thoughts about the game:
1. Isles captain John Tavares was the hero.
New York needed all 15 seconds of overtime for Tavares, the league's second-leading scorer this season, so deliver the dagger.
The game-winner came after Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby stopped a shot by Nikolay Kulemin, but tried to play the puck instead of cover it up. Holtby attempted to push the rebound into the right corner of the ice, but it instead went right to Tavares, probably the last Islander the Caps wanted to see with the puck.
Islanders coach Jack Capuano said he was pleased to see Tavares, who scored a team-best 38 goals this season, get the game-winner.
“Your best players are going to be your best players if you’re going to win a Stanley Cup,” Capuano told the assembled media. “They played him hard there in the two games in Washington. But tonight … 91 was 91. He did things for us not only on the ice, but on the bench too to calm things down when they made the push.”
This is the third time the Capitals and Islanders have gone to overtime at the Coliseum this season, and the home team won all three games.
2. The Islanders dictated the pace of the game in the first two periods.
Despite scoring only one goal during regulation, the Islanders dominated in puck possession while also out-shooting the Capitals 42-25.
Holtby, who came back strong after missing Game 2 with a stomach illness, played well, and it was hard to tell he had been feeling under the weather. He was tested all afternoon, but gave up only a second-period goal to Islanders’ forward Kyle Okposo before surrendering the winner to Tavares.
Capuano said he thought his team should have been up by more entering the third period, given the shot discrepancy. “They’ve got a good team,” he said. “They’ve got a veteran team and they hung around and they do what they do and they tied it up.”
After the Capitals were able to dominate the puck in Game 2 on Friday night, they started slow on Sunday, generating only 13 shots through the first two periods. While Islanders’ goalie Jaroslav Halak made some nice saves, he wasn’t really tested by the Caps’ offense early.
Early starts don't seem to agree with the Capitals. This season, when they've played in a game that began at 3 p.m. or earlier, they’ve gone 4-6-1. Three of those four road games were losses. Capitals coach Barry Trotz said on Sunday morning that he would address the team’s slow start, but he thought the Caps would be awake because of the atmosphere in the building. Not quite.
3. The crowd loved the game's physicality.
From the very start, the teams set the tone for a bruiser. Capitals center Eric Fehr, who was tied for fourth on the team with 19 goals during the regular season, had to leave the game after Okposo checked him into the glass during his first shift. He did not return.
In the second period, Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky suffered a head-jarring hit by Troy Brouwer in the upper back. He stayed down on the ice until the whistle was blown, and when he tried to skate back to the bench, he was waived off by the trainers. Visnovsky came back to play and and assisted on the Islanders’ second period goal.
There were 87 hits in the game, and they were distributed almost exactly evenly between the two teams. Washington finished with 44, New York 43.
It seemed the crowd got even louder after each hit. In between the second and third periods, Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey said on the radio that this was the loudest he has ever heard any arena.
Before the game, Trotz said he had talked to his team about how noisy Nassau Coliseum would be, calling it a “great building.” But, the Caps’ coach said, he thought the atmosphere would be a boost to his team. “You get revved up by the opposing fans. This is what you love. The competition, the intensity, the noise.”
If the Capitals want to reclaim home ice advantage in Game 4, they'll need to feed off the Coliseum's hostility on Tuesday night.