In a pivotal game five at the Verizon Center, Washington Capitals 2010 1st round draft pick, Evgeny Kuznetsov, had his NHL coming out party. The young Russian, who is playing his first full year in North America, scored twice, added an assist, had seven shots on net, and was +3 to lead the Caps to a 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders. The Caps lead the series, 3-2, with game 6 on Long Island on Saturday at 3 pm.
The Caps didn’t have a great start as the Islanders came out once again and played a physical style. Then when John Tavares wasn’t whistled for closing his hand on the puck on a play that led to Josh Bailey’s tally that made it 1-0, Capitals fans had to start wondering if the fix was in for a Rangers-Islanders series.
To the Caps players’ credit, they didn’t flinch. Washington applied massive pressure to the Islanders in the offensive zone and Kuznetsov scored his first marker of the night by batting the puck in the cage to tie the game up at the 9:08 mark, less than four minutes after New York had seized the early lead. It was a swing that would’ve made Hall of Famer Eddie Murray proud and a goal that energized the Caps and the Verizon Center crowd.
After one frame, this contest was pretty even with both team attempting 21 shots, but the Capitals had 10 on net to just eight for New York. In the middle period, the Capitals seemed to get stronger and their quality chances went up dramatically. The Islanders weren’t getting in the shooting lanes as much as earlier in the series and, as a result, the Caps poured 18 shots on goal. They would only score on Karl Alzner’s wide open net shot after Troy Brouwer did a super job of taking the puck from Halak at the right post, wheeling around the cage, and setting up #27 streaking in from the left point for an easy one.
Shortly thereafter Kuznetsov was called for a high stick, this after several obvious penalties on New York weren’t whistled by Chris Rooney and Frederick L’Ecuyer, but the Caps did an excellent job of killing it off. Alex Ovechkin was tripped at the 40:00 minute mark so Washington started period three on the power play.
The Caps had very good zone time on their power play to start the third period, but struggled to get shots on net, some of which were due to bad passing and other times the result of bouncing biscuits. But shortly after that penalty expired Jay Beagle made a great play to get the puck deep for the Caps and Washington pounced on a tired set of New York skaters. Brooks Laich would score from the slot to make it 3-1 and, at that point, you could see the shoulders of the Islanders start to slump.
The Caps then received another power play when Cal Clutterbuck lost his mind and started slashing Tim Gleason. The man advantage looked a little out of sync again, but they did have some prolonged zone time. As the penalty was expiring the Islanders gave the puck away in the neutral zone and Matt Niskanen hit Kuznetsov with the puck in stride at the offensive blue line. Kuzya went in all alone on Halak and beat him like a rented mule five hole with one of the prettiest moves you’ll see.
At that point the Verizon Center went nuts and the game was pretty much over. Jason Chimera would add an insurance goal and the Caps cruised to the win while Islander skaters Matt Martin and Clutterbuck were both given 10 minute misconducts for acting like babies.
In the end, it was a dominating finishing performance by Washington to turn a close tilt into a lopsided affair.
If I told you before game five that both Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom would have no points and finish at -1, how many of you would have said the Caps would win, and in a rout? Probably no one!
But with New York so focused on hitting plus matching up their top line and top defensive pair of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk against the Capitals superstars it created a mismatch for the other lines and Kuznetsov and company took full advantage. There were lots of strong performances from lines two through four, including rookie Andre Burakovsky, who was very good in 14:09 of ice time. The young Swede had one of the key plays in the game when he skated a dangerous lying puck out of Washington’s end in period two with the Islanders buzzing and the game still tied. That very mature play by the 20 year old allowed the Capitals to score at the other end and to start to take over the contest. Simply put, Burakovsky was strong on the puck all night, was +2, and should never be scratched again. He has the skill, speed, and size necessary for the NHL game and he matches up well with New York.
In goal, Braden Holtby was super, stopping 22 of 23 shots to pick up his second victory of the playoffs.
So the Caps are one win away from a second round date with the Rangers-Penguins series winner (likely New York). Game six will be in the raucous Nassau Coliseum, so it will be a tough task to close things out on the Island.
The key once again for the Capitals is to bring their strong effort and match the Islanders physical play. New York will come out hitting again in their barn and try to run the Caps out of the game early on to force a seventh tilt.
On Thursday night in game five, it was the Evgeny Kuznetsov show. Washington will need another excellent performance on Saturday to defeat a skilled Islanders squad and advance to round two for the first time since the spring of 2012.
Notes: Shot attempts were 67-60 for the Caps but when you look at the shots on net it was 41-23 for Washington. The Capitals did a good job of getting pucks through to Jaroslav Halak, who was pulled for the last 11 minutes yielding the way for former Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth. Neuvy made six saves. Halak allowed five goals on 35 shots on net…Mikhail Grabovski played his first game since February and was -1 in 15:38 of ice time…Nisakanen led the Caps in ice time at 22:46..Johnny Boychuk led the Islanders with 26:00 minutes and Nick Leddy logged 23:45 on the back end, as well…The Caps won the face off battle, 31-18. Backstrom was 11-3…Hits were 49 a piece. Brooks Orpik had six for the Caps while Boychuk had 10 trying to slow down Ovechkin…Ovi had only seven shot attempts in game five in 18:23 of work.