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Islanders’ offensive explosion, relentless ethic wear down Capitals to take 2-0 series lead

New York Islanders left wing Matt Martin (17), center celebrates a goal with defenseman Scott Mayfield (24), left and center Casey Cizikas (53), right int he second period in game two of the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, they fell behind, and once again, they roared back.

A monstrous second period that featured three goals in the first seven minutes — along with resolute, organized, relentless efforts down the stretch — secured a 5-2 victory for the New York Islanders over the Washington Capitals in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series on Friday night to take a 2-0 series lead.

The Islanders weathered the storm of two Alex Ovechkin goals — the first coming just 56 seconds into the game — to overcome a slow start and continue their impressive 5-on-5 play.

“We’re playing to our identity,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “The two games have been a little bit different in terms of [flow]… I think we have a good, mature group that doesn’t get phased.”

After recording just one shot in the first 10 minutes, the Islanders posted 11 in the final half of the frame, though they couldn’t find a way past Holtby.

They did in the second period, though — as the game exploded into life with four goals in the first 6:54.

New York took advantage of a Nic Dowd high-sticking penalty when Nick Leddy’s slapper from the point fizzed over the glove of Holtby 2:56 in.

Two minutes later, they took the lead thanks to their identity line.

An aggressive forecheck led to a golden chance in front for Cal Clutterbuck, whose wrister on a loose puck was saved away by Holtby. But the ensuing pressure saw Scott Mayfield pinch down the right boards to send a centering pass to Matt Martin, who poked it into the back of the net.

Ovechkin picked up his second 1:38 later when he redirected a slapper from the point from Brenden Dillon past Varlamov, but the Islanders came up with an immediate answer when Brock Nelson wristed a breakaway chance under Holtby just 15 seconds after to take a 3-2 lead.

“They had a couple good looks and Ovechkin got one to tie it up so getting one back… we’ve all been there when that happens and it can be deflating so that was big time,” Nelson said.

The Islanders’ usual calling card, their defense, not only withstood the Capitals’ major third-period push, but they got support from relentless forechecking from their forwards. That included a pair of penalty kills that featured organization and a little bit of luck — most notably when Ovechkin hit the outside of the net on a one-timer that had Varlamov completely out of position on a cross-ice pass.

“When you need a kill in a one-goal game and that power play has so many weapons that can hurt you in so many ways, you need those big kills in those big moments and our guys were big in that moment. 

In the final minutes, when the Capitals’ strongest push was expected, though, the Islanders’ forecheck led by the likes of Leo Komarov, Derick Brassard, Anders Lee, and the fourth line, monopolized possession in the Capitals’ zone, leading to a much-needed insurance tally from a Cal Clutterbuck redirection with 2:46 remaining.

“You look at the strength down low… that’s how you win,” Trotz said. “Guys are committed to that effort so I really liked that third period. We didn’t back off, we stayed to our game, and we got the result we wanted.”

“We’re just trying to stay on top of them and not give them any room to come at us with the amount of talent they have,” Clutterbuck added.

Lee, the first liner who was double-shifting with the fourth line in the third period, added an empty-netter to secure the Islanders’ 2-0 lead.

“It doesn’t get any easier from here,” Martin said. “They have a championship pedigree… We have to stay true to our game as much as possible and hopefully, that’ll be enough.”

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