In an alternate universe, Washington's Jakub Vrana scores on his breakaway - or buries the rebound - in overtime of Game 3 and the complexion of this series completely changes. Here on Earth-616 however, Vrana was stymied by New York goalie Semyon Varlamov and the Islanders ended up getting the winner on a swooping Matt Barzal move soon thereafter, giving the Isles a 3-0 stranglehold on the series.
Mathematically, the Capitals can still win this best-of-seven. Spiritually however, they may be cooked.
The New York Islanders are playing their patented brand of structured, defensive hockey and it is proving too effective for the more offensively-inclined Capitals. And though Game 3 went into overtime, there were other signs that indicated the Islanders are continuing to gain steam. For example, they didn't give the Caps a sniff in the first period, outshooting Washington 12-6.
"That was definitely a point of emphasis for us," said defenseman Adam Pelech. "We wanted to get off to a good start, especially because we didn't get off to the greatest of starts in Games 1 and 2. We defended hard and later in the game, 'Varly' bailed us out a few times."
Perhaps the most discouraging news for the Capitals is that they had chances to win this game and simply didn't bury them. Washington had some good looks thanks to stretch passes, briefly breaking that Maginot Line of the Islanders, but Varlamov was there - particularly on a Tom Wilson breakaway that might have changed the outcome of the game. And as the match went on, you didn't get a sense the Capitals were ever out of it, even though they also weren't pulling ahead.
"I thought we had a few really good looks in the third," said Washington defenseman John Carlson. "It felt like we were getting somewhere on our forecheck and our end-zone play and were starting to find lanes and options to give ourselves better looks. We can always say we would have liked a better period, but I can't say that with any authority."
And therein lies the problem for Washington: the Islanders once again got the victory and now the margin of error is nil for the Capitals. For New York coach Barry Trotz, the mastermind of this great defensive squad, his team can still get better, despite the commanding series lead.
"In the second and third, we got a little loose in some areas, but we can clean that up," Trotz said. "We knew the team on the other side was going to come hard and they're loaded - they have lots of weapons. But we know we have another level in our game, which is really good to know."
With Pelech and Ryan Pulock doing their best to shut down Alex Ovechkin (successfully, I might add - Washington's only goal came on the power play from Evgeny Kuznetsov) and the rest of the Islanders in the zone as well, New York finds itself on the cusp of moving on. The Capitals need to throw everything they can at the Islanders in Game 4 - and it still might not be enough. They've only scored five goals in the entire series and that is just how the Islanders wanted this matchup to unfold.