Capitals vs. Islanders 2015 NHL playoff preview: Special teams key to the series.

By Sarah Kwak
April 12, 2015

Regular season recaps

Nov. 26: Islanders 3, Capitals 2 (OT)

Nov. 28: Capitals 5, Islanders 2

Dec. 29: Islanders 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Feb. 21: Capitals 3, Islanders 2 (SO)

Notable injuries

Capitals: RW Eric Fehr (upper body, day-to-day), RW Tom Wilson (head, day-to-day), C Jay Beagle (upper body, day-to-day)

Islanders: C Mikhail Grabovski (concussion, indefinite), C Frans Nielsen (lower body, day-to-day), LW Matt Martin (undisclosed, day-to-day), D Travis Hamonic (undisclosed, day-to-day), G Michal Neuvirth (undisclosed, day-to-day)

Keys to a Capitals victory

Capitals coach Barry Trotz: I was wrong about Alex Ovechkin

At this point, Washington’s top line is a well-known entity that will draw plenty of attention from the opposition. Every game plan against the Caps begins with a study of quieting Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. But it won’t end there. The real key to the Capitals’ success against New York, then, will be playing an irritating, physical game. For as much success as the Islanders have had this season, they still by and large lack playoff experience, especially at forward. Aside from trade deadline acquisition Tyler Kennedy, none of New York’s forwards has more than 15 games of postseason play on his résumé. It’s up to Washington to exploit that inexperience and draw penalties so that the Caps’ league-leading power play (25.3%) can do the work. Against an Islanders penalty kill that ranks 26th in the league (78.0%), this special teams battle could be most important to Washington’s success.

Keys to an Islanders victory

NHL's 2014-15 NHL awards picks

New York has been among the most disciplined teams in the league, going shorthanded only 218 times this season—second best in the conference. Facing that lethal power play of Washington’s, the Islanders will need to maintain that level of clean play. In 5-on-5 situations, Washington’s forward lines have gone through many looks this season, most recently splitting up Backstrom and Ovechkin to give the offense some balance. It’s imperative that New York blunt two lines of attack. The Isles gained some experience handling a dual threat in their first round series against Pittsburgh in 2013. They weren’t wholly effective then—Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had nine and 11 points respectively—but they still pushed the Penguins to six games. But New York’s goaltending is better now with Jaroslav Halak than it was then with Evgeni Nabokov. Speaking of goal, the Islanders would be wise to give Capitals goalie Braden Holtby a heavy workload. After playing 73 games this season, the most by any netminder in the league, Holtby could be worn down. One way to find out is by testing him early and often.

The Pick

The Capitals have looked like one of the steadiest teams in the league, especially since the New Year. And Ovechkin’s stick has been red hot on the power play, per usual. The Islanders will give it everything they have to give their Long Island faithful one last memorable run. But that special teams battle is going to make the difference in this series. Washington in six.

• Complete Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule and bracket

GAME 1 Islanders 4, Capitals 3 Recap Box score Highlights
GAME 2 Capitals 4, Islanders 3 Recap Box score Highlights
GAME 3 Islanders 2, Capitals 1 (OT) Recap Box score Highlights
GAME 4 Capitals 2, Islanders 1 (OT) Recap Box score Highlights
GAME 5 Capitals 5, Islanders 1 Recap Box score Highlights
GAME 6 Islanders 3, Capitals 1 Recap Box score Highlights
GAME 7* Mon. 4/27 7:30 p.m. at Washington NBCSN, CBC

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)