Staring a daunting 2-0 deficit and the demons of their recent playoff history in the face after 25 minutes, the Capitals surged to life to tilt the ice away from their inexperienced netminder and even the series with a 4-3 victory over the Islanders in front of a raucous Verizon Center crowd.
Three thoughts on Washington’s comeback win.
1. It’s hard to ask for more out of the Capitals’ offense.
After being outshot and out-chanced in Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss, the Capitals’ desperation to even the series was evident in Game 2. Washington pushed forward in waves after falling into an early 2-0 hole and didn’t let up once it was clear Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak was not at his steady best. Ultimately, the Islanders’ Herculean shot-blocking effort (they came away with a 27-11 edge in that category) wasn’t enough to stem the tide, as the visitors were outshot 35-21.
Defenseman Karl Alzner’s slapshot snuck through Halak’s pads at 11:26 of the second period to cap roughly five minutes of sustained pressure and cut the New York lead in half. As Washington continued to dominate possession, coach Barry Trotz shuffled his personnel, bringing Nicklas Backstrom up to join Alex Ovechkin and Joel Ward on the top line. That combination cashed in a few minutes later when Ovechkin pounded home a rebound of a Matt Niskanen shot set up by a pass from Backstrom and Ward's net-front presence.
The Capitals took advantage of their first power play early in the third period, as Backstrom walked in on the Islanders’ backpedaling defense untouched and snapped a high shot from the slot to tie the game and ignite the crowd. Minutes later, a sloppy defensive zone turnover by defenseman Nick Leddy led to Jason Chimera’s game-winning goal seconds later, which gave Washington its first lead of the series at the 7:37 mark of the third.
Ovechkin and Backstrom have paired up for countless Capitals goals over the years, and it seems likely (or at least logical) that Trotz will keep two of his most experienced playmakers together going forward.
2. Emergency starter Philipp Grubauer answered the call admirably.
With starting goaltender Braden Holtby battling illness, the Capitals recalled the 23-year-old Grubauer from their AHL affiliate in Hershey on Friday morning and gave him the start over backup Justin Peters. Grubauer had played only one game during the regular season, a shootout win over the Ducks on Feb. 6. Tasked with keeping his team in the series, he played largely free of the shaky mistakes that might be expected of a young goalie making his first playoff start.
There’s no such thing as a bad shot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that rule counts double when there’s a backup between the pipes, but the Islanders weren’t always successful in peppering Grubauer with pucks at every opportunity. Their fourth line appeared to have the right approach early: Cal Clutterbuck turned down a tough pass and ripped a high shot on a 2-on-1 rush that beat Grubauer glove-side to put the visitors on the board first.
Otherwise, the Islanders made the most of their limited prime scoring chances with pinpoint execution. Ryan Strome tallied his second goal of the playoffs with a straight-on one-timer from the top of the circles that slipped through a screen. Later in the second period Josh Bailey slipped a pass across to Kyle Okposo on the counterattack amid one of the Islanders’ few organized zone entries of a frantic 20 minutes, and Okposo rifled another shot over Grubauer's shoulder for a 3-1 lead.
All three of the Islanders’ goals were perfectly placed shots, but the scarcity of them made Grubauer’s night easier than it could’ve been. While the Capitals hope Holtby can recover in time for Sunday’s Game 3 matinee, Grubauer did enough to earn his team’s trust if he’s called on again at any point this spring.
3. Nassau Coliseum will be a sight to behold for Games 3 and 4.
There will be at least two more playoff games in the longtime home of the Islanders before the team moves to Brooklyn next fall, and Jack Capuano’s team would be well-served to feed off what is sure to be an electric atmosphere in Sunday’s Game 3 in an effort to even out the ice after being outplayed on Friday. In 2013, the ghosts of the Coliseum helped power an eighth-seeded Islanders team to three impressive performances against the vaunted Penguins, scratching out one win and two overtime losses.
This year’s team is talented enough to win on home ice and return to D.C. with a chance to close out the series in Game 5, but it will need to muscle up to compete with a Capitals team that dominated possession and came to life on Friday night.