After playing one of their least-composed two periods of the season, the Islanders came alive in the third period to score three goals in 11 minutes, helping to overturn a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Washington Capitals 4-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round series on Wednesday afternoon.
The Islanders went directly against their initial gameplan of playing composed hockey while trying to keep the Capitals off the power play by committing seven penalties in Game 1 — the main reason why they fell into a 2-0 hole in the second period.
But dominant 5-on-5 play sparked a New York comeback with a late Jordan Eberle goal in the second greasing the wheels for the eventual landslide.
Anders Lee, a shorthanded tally from Josh Bailey, and the icer from Anthony Beauvillier capped off the frenetic third period, providing the Islanders with the much-needed offense that has eluded at times over the past two seasons.
It was desperately needed, especially after a difficult start to the day when they were whistled for three penalties in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“I thought we just stuck to it,” Bailey said. “They have a really good team, they have a good power play… We just wanted to keep working, that’s playoff hockey.
While the penalty kill struggled mightily against the Panthers during the qualifiers, it was staunch in the first period to alleviate some early pressure.
After the parade of whistles stopped, the game’s pace exploded as the Capitals tried to push the Islanders’ defensive ranks to its limit — though the Islanders managed to get some momentum off a Tom Wilson penalty to garner some much-needed time in Washington’s zone.
“We don’t want to be on the penalty kill if we can help it. That wasn’t our intention for sure,” Trotz said. “We’ll play 5-on-5 with anybody in the league.”
Matt Martin’s second penalty of the day — an interference call — gave the Capitals a fourth power-play chance, which they finally converted on.
A centering pass deflected behind the net by JG Pageau bounced off the boards perfectly to a wide-open TJ Oshie at the side of an unsuspecting Semyon Varlamov’s net, who finished from the tough angle past a sprawling Adam Pelech 5:27 into the second period.
The Capitals and Oshie nabbed a second on the power play in the second period off a Jordan Eberle hooking call in the Washington zone to eliminate an Islanders power play.
Off a scramble in front, the Capitals were able to get multiple whacks at the puck while near Varlamov before Oshie poked the puck out from under the Islanders’ goalie and into the net six minutes after his first.
Out of nothing, the Islanders grabbed one back with 1:03 to go in the frame when Eberle floated a wrister off a drop pass by Barzal that handcuffed Braden Holtby, grazed the top of his glove, and snuck into the top corner.
It could have been the tying goal had it not been for Oshie, who moments earlier denied Pageau on a shorthanded chance off a Capitals turnover. A hard forecheck form Leo Komarov found Pageau alone in front where he deked past Holtby, couldn’t get a clean transition to his forehand, but managed to whack the puck toward goal, but Oshie was there to stop the puck before shuffling it out of the crease.
Less than a minute into the third period, the Islanders tied it up when Lee stuffed home a loose puck that leaked from Holtby deriving from a Pulock slapper from the point for his first goal of the playoffs — and just the second postseason tally of his career.
“We stayed even-keel and settled down a little bit,” Lee said. “First two periods we were an emotional group… just clawing our way back carried us and we played a pretty smart finishing period.”
It was a cherry on top of Lee’s busy night, which included a hit that knocked out Washington playmaker Nicklas Backstrom, which led to a scuffle with John Carlson and a fight with Tom Wilson in the first period.
“We knew it was going to be a physical game and a physical night. I don’t think my intentions were bad. Just tried to throw the brakes on a little there, but I caught [Backstrom],” Lee said. “The end result after that was a penalty and a couple fights. It was settled and the game continued on.”
“He definitely earned it tonight,” Bailey added. “He was our first star.”
For Trotz, it was confirmation that Lee can take over a postseason game after he had been missing throughout the first round.
“Playoff hockey should be right up Anders’ wheelhouse if you will,” he said. “What else can you ask from a leader and what he brings to our hockey club?”
“Anders is a big piece of us.”
After Leo Komarov put the Islanders down a man for the seventh time of the day, the penalty killers took the lead when another strong forecheck — this time from Brock Nelson — sent a centering pass from behind the net to Bailey, who one-timed a wrister from the right circle blocker side past Holtby.
Beauvillier — one of the heroes from the first round — picked up his fourth goal of the playoffs and the Islanders’ fourth of the day to provide some much-needed breathing room.
On a three-on-two rush, Bailey’s wrister was fought off by Holtby, but he followed up his shot, got the rebound, and fed an open Beauvillier to stuff it home with 8:05 to go in the game.
“Keep putting the foot on the gas, keep getting pucks to the net,” Lee said as he explained the Islanders’ mindset of closing out Game 1. “Just as a group, we all just settled in and played a really smart period with some phenomenal plays.”