WASHINGTON — It had the same feel, the same intensity, of last spring’s playoff series. And the Isles again came away empty-handed in this city and this building despite a big effort.
Alex Ovechkin’s goal with 2:40 to play gave the Capitals a 3-2 win Thursday night, leaving a wealth of frustration in the Isles dressing room after they played one of their most complete games of the season in their first official visit to Verizon Center since their Game 7 loss.
“It was a lot like the playoffs,” Matt Martin said, “and we just came out on the wrong end of it.”
The Islanders were the aggressors throughout, holding a 71-41 edge in shot attempts — the Caps blocked 33 Islanders shots. And Mikhail Grabovski’s goal 1:55 of the first gave the Isles a brief edge. T.J. Oshie tied it at 7:28 and Andre Burakovsky put the Isles down a goal with 1:18 left in the second period, both on small breakdowns.
But the first minutes of the third belonged to the Islanders, who cycled with energy and outworked the league’s best team until Marek Zidlicky’s pass threaded through to Josh Bailey, who roofed the puck over Braden Holtby at 5:38 of the third to tie it.
From there, it was a microcosm of April’s seven-game slugfest. Both teams had odd-man rushes with their best players — Ovechkin was denied twice by Jaro Halak, the second on a two on one with 4:51 to go. John Tavares had a 2-on-1 one earlier in the third but Anders Lee couldn’t corral Tavares’ pass.
It was Tavares putting the loss on his own shoulders for failing to mark Ovechkin as the Caps goal-hound found a soft spot in the high slot, cocked his stick and rifled Nicklas Backstrom’s pass through Halak’s legs just before Tavares could get there.
“That’s my job to get in the lane there, I can’t let him get that one off,” Tavares said. “It’s on me. It stings because the guys played hard, Jaro played well. I let one slip.”
The physical side of April’s playoff series made these teams permanent rivals and made Caps forward Tom Wilson, who knocked Lubo Visnovsky out of that series with a concussion, a permanent enemy.
Thomas Hickey exacted some measure of revenge in the first period Thursday night, delivering an elbow to Wilson’s jaw and following it with a cross-check to Wilson’s face as the two fell to the ice. Hickey received a minor.
“I think everyone knows how we felt about him. This was an emotional game, we were all really up for this one,” Hickey said. “We’ll kill that penalty every time.”
The Islanders — as they did in that unhappy Game 7 from 10 months ago — got a late power play to try and equalize, but the half dozen shots they got through to Holtby were turned aside.
Things are tightening up in the Metro Division and Eastern Conference. The Devils earned a point to pull even with the Isles, though the Islanders have three games in hand.
“Most nights, the way we played is going to win us a lot of games,” Hickey said. “Even against that team. It didn’t happen tonight.”