UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Once again the Capitals and Islanders went to overtime at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday night, and this time Washington prevailed, 2–1, thanks to clutch goaltending by Braden Holtby (36 saves), continuing breaks (as in Islanders’ sticks), and a seeing-eye goal by Nicklas Backstrom. The series is now tied at two. Game 5 will be on Thursday night in Washington (7 p.m., ET; CNBC, Sportsnet, TVA).
Here are three thoughts about the game:
1. Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin came up big for the Capitals
Forward Nicklas Backstrom scored the game winner at the 11:09 mark of OT after the Capitals won a face-off in the Isles' zone. Bringing the puck along the right boards while being defended by Islanders forward John Tavares, who was left stick-less when it broke, Backstrom turned and fired a shot that went in by the far post with help from Joel Ward, who was setting a screen in front of goalie Jaroslav Halak.
After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz praised Backstrom, who now leads all playoff scorers with six points. His big night included an assist on Ovechkin’s tally that opened the scoring at 13:05 of the first period when Washington's captain deflected a shot by defenseman John Carlson. Ovechkin, who unleashed a team-high eight shots (Backstrom ranked second with five) and contributed the secondary assist on the game-winner, also received his share of credit.
“I thought Nick Backstrom was all-world today. [Ovechkin and Backstrom] both produced, they’ve played together for a long time. I thought [Backstrom] was the guy today. He was outstanding. [Ovechkin] was a big load on the one goal there, a tip, a great stick.
“I thought we had a lot of great efforts today. You talk about your core players that have been around for a while really stepped up. And that’s just a sign of leadership.”
This was the fourth time the Capitals and Islanders have gone to overtime at the Coliseum this season, and the first time the visiting team has won.
2. The Islanders’ fourth line was their bright spot
In all a frustrating night for the Isles. Their power play woes continued—New York went 0-for-4 to extend its slump to 0-for-10 in the series—and there was that stick mishap (two of Washington’s goals in its Game 2 win came while an Islander was playing without one).
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Isles coach Jack Capuano said in his postgame press conference. “It was their third goal off a broken stick [in the series. … I think I’ve seen it happen to our team more than any other team in the league and to me it’s a little frustrating.”
But the trio of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck stood out. Earlier this season, broadcaster Don Cherry called them “maybe the best fourth line ever in hockey” and Capuano praised them for “playing the right way” while the team’s stars struggled.
These three guys aren’t fancy, he said, just a “meat and potatoes line.” Along with their ability to be physical and energetic—they generated 869 hits during the regular season (Martin and Clutterbuck led the way with 382 and 343 respectively)—they also contribute some timely offense (24 goals).
On Tuesday, the Islanders’ lone goal came when Cizikas put in a Clutterbuck rebound with 12.6 seconds remaining in the first period to tie the game. They nearly struck again to give the Isles the lead in the third period but Clutterbuck, on a shorthanded breakaway, rang his shot off the crossbar.
3. Capitals reclaim home ice advantage
The Capitals recaptured home ice primarily thanks to the fantastic play of goaltender Braden Holtby, who has been solid in the last two appearances (he missed Game 2 with an illness). In Games 3 and 4 on the road, the goalie has given up only three goals on 79 shots.
“[Holtby’s] been the top guy for us all year,” Trotz said. “He’s growing in these playoffs. Not only these playoffs, but the previous ones he’s played. It’s a big relief to have him back. We didn’t have the real Braden in Game 1, and he didn’t play in Game 2. I think he looks really strong right now and it will continue hopefully.”
With the series even, the Capitals will continue to lean on Holtby and look to get off to an early lead like they did in Game 4. On Tuesday, Washington scored first for the first time in the series.
Before the game, Trotz said if his team could jump out to the early lead, “it’d be huge” because the Caps have been “chasing the series.”
“Game 2, we used the backup goalie and we had to come back from a two-goal deficit a couple times,” Trotz said on Tuesday morning. “[In Game 3], we had our backs against it most of the first two periods, then we had a good rally in the third and they win in overtime. It’d give us a lot of confidence. I think it would put the onus on them, the pressure on them a little bit more than it has been in the series.”