The Islanders defeated the Capitals 3-1 in Saturday’s Game 6, tying the series and setting up Game 7 on Monday. John Tavares, Nikolay Kulemin and Cal Clutterbuck scored for the Islanders, while John Carlson tallied a goal for the Capitals. Clutterbuck’s empty-net goal iced a victory for the Isles.
Here are three thoughts from New York’s win:
1. Physical play boosts the Islanders, though the Capitals responded well
At times, Game 6 felt more like a 60-minute brawl than a hockey game. In front of a raucous Nassau Coliseum crowd, the Islanders came out clearly intent on playing a physical game, roughing up Washington from the opening faceoff.
The Caps played the body as well, but the Islanders’ tough play set the tone and gave the team a major boon. New York’s second goal, which broke a 1-1 tie in the third period, came on a wild play in which half the players on the ice were involved in a scrum near the bench. After a big Alexander Ovechkin hit on Tavares, who had smartly avoided the scrum in favor of carrying the puck up the ice, Nick Leddy grabbed the puck and found a wide-open Kulemin in front of the net. Kulemin maneuvered the puck around Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby for the goal, made easier by the fact that nearly half the Caps on the ice were still recovering from the scrum by the benches.
New York racked up an impressive 46 hits to the Capitals’ 32. The Islanders threw hits the every chance they had, giving the team a much-needed lift after an underwhelming effort in Game 5’s 5-1 defeat in Washington.
But give credit to the Capitals for playing tough and fighting back. This game was up for grabs to the very end, and Washington actually outshot New York 39-37 despite New York’s energy. With the animosity between these two teams only growing, expect the physical play to continue in Game 7.
2. Jaroslav Halak shows shades of 2010 form
Of all the Capitals’ playoff failures, the seven-game defeat to eighth-seeded Montreal in the first round of the 2010 postseason stands out the most. Halak’s performance on Saturday harkened back to his incredible run as the Habs’ netminder in the series, when he stymied a prolific Washington offense and led Montreal to an improbable victory.
Washington had numerous quality chances throughout the game, including several on power plays. But Halak was up to the task, only allowing a Carlson goal at the end of the first period despite the Capitals outskating the Islanders for several significant stretches of the game.
Halak’s excellent performance helped make up for injuries to Islanders defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky, Calvin De Haan and Travis Hamonic, as well as a shortened bench once Matt Donovan received a 10-minute misconduct late in the second period. Halak was shaky the last two games in Washington, but his Game 6 performance should encourage the Islanders heading into Game 7.
3. Look away, Capitals fans: It’s time for Game 7
For the fourth consecutive playoff series, the Capitals are heading to a Game 7. They fell at home to the Rangers in Game 7 in 2013, and the previous season the Caps won Game 7 in Boston before losing to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in the second round. In four of the last six Washington playoff seasons, all in the Ovechkin era, Washington’s season has ended in Game 7 at home. Will Monday’s Game 7 be more of the same?
It’s unlikely that we’ll see the 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the Penguins in 2009 or the 5-0 thrashing from the Rangers in 2013. This series has been very even, with the total score knotted at 14-14 entering Game 7.
The good news for the Capitals is that they have seemingly gained the home ice edge. Through the first four-plus periods at the Verizon Center, the Islanders outscored the Capitals 7-2. The last 84 minutes have been far kinder to Washington: the Caps hold an 8-1 edge over their foes since the 16-minute mark in the second period of Game 2. Of course those statistics don’t account for the D.C. sports curse, which transcends mere numbers.
The Islanders haven’t played a Game 7 since 2002. But on Monday, they’ll be playing for a second-round series against the Rangers, which would mean at least two more games at Nassau Coliseum. Considering the increasing hostility and the even play between the Isles and Caps, Game 7 is exactly what this series deserves.