What a stellar performance by the Capitals to defeat the Islanders on Friday night without their number one goalie, Braden Holtby, who was out sick. To top it off, the Caps, who thoroughly dominated this tilt from start to finish, rallied from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits before prevailing on Jason Chimera’s third period tally.
It had been 24 games, since February 19th to be precise, since Nicklas Backstrom had scored a goal. But in one quick motion that drought went by the wayside and a huge individual play by the great #19 allowed the Caps to tie the game with the Islanders at three, and more importantly turn the Verizon Center into what sounded like an insane asylum.
The arena was as loud as I’ve heard it in years and Coach Trotz made a point to praise the fans afterwards saying “we fed off of the crowd.” He also added “trust me, the crowd helps, keep doing that, we feed off of it….keep rocking, we need you.”
Make no mistake about it, Backstrom’s decision to shoot with four Islanders around him in the slot, when most everyone else thought he would dish the puck to Alex Ovechkin (1 goal), was a game changer. Jarolsav Halak (31 saves) likely didn’t expect a shot there and he didn’t stand a chance on the top shelf snapper by the super Swede.
The power play tally, on their only man advantage of the contest, came just 3:44 into the final frame and completed a spirited Capitals comeback.
Philipp Grubauer (18 saves) was recalled from Hershey and received the start on Friday night and allowed three goals in the first 35 minutes before settling down and shutting the door on New York. To be fair, the Islanders three goals came on two odd man rushes and a wicked shot from the slot by Ryan Strome. All three were “snipes” as Coach Barry Trotz called them and were top shelf. But the young German, who said he got word he would start at the morning skate, did a better job of standing tall in the cage and not allowing the highly skilled Islanders to beat him up top over the last 25 minutes. He was mobbed by a happy group of teammates when this one was over and the series is now tied at one game apiece.
The score in this contest was 4-3, but Washington totally carried the play. The Caps outshot attempted New York, 63-27, through the first 40 minutes yet they somehow trailed by a puck, 3-2, heading into the final frame. It was 3-1, at one point, but Ovechkin went to the net and put home the rebound of a Matt Niskanen (two assists, +2) shot to really get everyone believing that the Caps were indeed coming back in this one. The Caps would out shot attempt the Isles, 82-51, in the game with most of the Islanders attempts coming late.
This was an impressive performance by the Caps after the clunker on Wednesday. But as Mike Vogel chronicled over at his Dump’n Chase blog, the Capitals had a close to .500 record (11-9-3) in games that followed more than two days off during the regular season. Simply put, the team gets rusty and tends to lose its’ rhythm so there is one explanation for why they played so poorly in game one.
On Friday night, the Capitals were certainly in a rhythm with their breakouts, their passing, and their forecheck. They suffocated the Islanders for nearly the entire game and put a physical pounding on the New York defense. Thomas Hickey and Lubomir Visnovsky are going to need lots of ice packs after that one.
After the goalie change, the only move Trotzy willingly made coming into this game was to insert Tom Wilson back into the lineup for Michael Latta. “Willy” only played 7:17, but he brought a physical presence that New York did not like. Wilson had seven hits in the game and was very effective.
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a Caps player that didn’t bring their top effort and play well. The Islanders were really fortunate that they only were beaten by a puck.
But, like Wednesday, it’s just one game and now this series heads to Long Island for a Sunday at noon puck drop.
It remains to be seen whether Holtby will be recovered enough to start, but if the Capitals play like they did on Friday with their relentless effort, they are going to be hard to beat.
The Islanders are a fast team that thrives on their transition game, but in game two the Caps neutralized that with a strong desire to win the one on one battles, a major physical presence and style, and more efficient passing. Their superstars came through in the clutch, as well.
It was the perfect blue print for a victory. Now on to game three.
Notes: Washington won the face off battle 28-27. Backstrom, who had two assists to go with his goal, was 14-7 from the dot…Karl Alzner was +3 and led the Capitals in ice time at 22:07…the Islanders did not score on their only power play…Chimera had one of his best games in weeks with the GWG in 14:19 of ice time…the Caps outhit the Islanders 59-38, which is impressive considering the Capitals had the puck most of the game.