After a strong showing against the New York Islanders in Game 2 of their first-round playoff showdown, the Washington Capitals were outplayed for the grand majority of Game 3 Sunday en route to losing 2-1 in overtime and falling behind two games to one in the series. And if they’re going to rebound and make it to the second round against the winner of the Rangers/Penguins series, the Caps are going to require significant step-ups from players not named Alexander Ovechkin and Braden Holtby.
Some might say the Caps performed admirably, outshooting the Islanders 12-7 in the third and getting a third-period goal from Nicklas Backstrom to force overtime, and that they lost on this relatively fluky goal by Isles captain John Tavares just 15 seconds into the extra frame: Read more
I said after the Islanders’ Game 1 win that the Capitals were in trouble if their opponents got production from core players other than Isles captain John Tavares – veteran winger Kyle Okposo being one of those players – and in Game 3 Sunday, Washington was getting knocked around, on the ice and the scoresheet, for exactly that reason.
Okposo in particular was a force to reckon with in Game 3: Late in the first period, he laid a thunderous hit on Caps’ winger Eric Fehr:
Fehr, who has a history of shoulder issues, was driven shoulder-first into the boards by Okposo and was forced out of the game by the hit. And Okposo wasn’t done after that. In the second period, he was robbed by Caps goalie Braden Holtby on a shot in close, but almost immediately tipped a shot past him for the game’s first goal: Read more
A shaky goalie can sap a playoff team’s confidence in a hurry, or it can galvanize the rest of the squad to cover up their deficiencies and get the job done another way.
The latter was the case on Friday, as the Washington Capitals overcame a weak performance from last-minute starter Philipp Grubauer to beat the New York Islanders 4-3 and tie their series 1-1.
Grubauer was named the starter late Friday after the Caps ruled out Braden Holtby, who missed yesterday’s practice with an illness.
But the German did not get off to a good start, surrendering a soft goal to Cal Clutterbuck on just the Islanders’ second shot of the game.
In the New York Islanders’ 4-1 Game 1 victory over Washington Wednesday, superstar center and Hart Trophy candidate John Tavares had just one assist. That could be interpreted by some as an ominous harbinger of what’s to come for them against the Capitals and throughout the rest of the post-season. But the opposite is true. The fact the Isles got big games from youngsters such as sophomore centers Brock Nelson (who had the first and last goal of the night) and Ryan Strome, and veteran wingers Josh Bailey (one goal and two points) and Kyle Okposo (one assist) means there’s less pressure on Tavares to shoulder the entire load. And that can only be good news for their playoff hopes this year. Read more
New York Islanders center Ryan Strome was playing his first NHL playoff game Wednesday against the Washington Capitals – and the 21-year-old wasn’t showing any nerves when he scored his first career playoff goal (and the game-winner) on a sweet wrist shot in traffic that caught the upper corner of the Capitals’ net.
Strome, who scored 17 goals and 50 points in his sophomore regular season, grabbed the puck off a faceoff won by Isles star John Tavares early in the second period in Washington, and wasted no time ripping it over Holtby’s right shoulder and just under the crossbar to make it 2-1 for the visitors: Read more
HOW THEY WIN
CAPITALS: Scoring was never a problem for the Caps. Keeping the puck out of their net was. But new coach Barry Trotz and his beefed-up blueline (enter Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen over the summer) are producing results. Washington is now a top-10 team defensively, jumping up from the bottom third last year. The team’s possession numbers are better as well, so Trotz’s defensive rep pays dividends at both ends of the ice. In Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps have one of the most terrifying twosomes, but more weapons have been added, including young Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov and trade deadline acquisition Curtis Glencross. The power play is still deadly, and with multiple D-man options (John Carlson and Mike Green being the most prominent), opponents don’t get a rest if the top unit fails to convert. Goalie Braden Holtby has also been better than ever.
ISLANDERS: The Islanders, one of the best possession teams in the NHL, can head into the playoffs confident knowing the past three Stanley Cup winners have all ranked top-three in unblocked shot attempts (USAT). When the Isles are on their game, they’re jumping into passing routes and rushing up the ice or breaking up enemy incursions with active sticks. In captain John Tavares, New York has a potential Hart Trophy winner, and depth on Long Island hasn’t been this good in decades. The squad even has what has become known as the “best fourth line in hockey” in Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, all swift shift disturbers who bang, crash and disrupt. On the back end, the addition of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy – Cup winners with Boston and Chicago – has brought leadership and skill to a unit that always seemed to be a guy short in the past. Read more
After 81 games of futility and losing, the Buffalo Sabres can suddenly play a huge role in shaping the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs.
They can beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in Buffalo, and in doing so, they may help knock the Pens out of post-season contention.
The Sabres have already clinched worst overall in the league, but if anything can get this downtrodden squad up for a game, you’ve got to think this would be it.
The Penguins lost a huge home game to the New York Islanders 3-1 on Friday, blowing their chance to clinch a post-season berth and leaving them open to missing the playoffs if things go badly on Saturday.
Watching the NHL’s action play out Thursday night was kind of like covering a political election and seeing the polls come in and herald a new leader for a new era. In one polling station, you had the Boston Bruins – the league’s top regular-season team last year – falling to the Florida Panthers and putting their playoff fate in the hands of the surging Ottawa Senators and wobbly Pittsburgh Penguins (who, like the Bruins, won a Stanley Cup not too long ago); In another station, you saw the Calgary Flames hold off the desperate Los Angeles Kings and register a 3-1 win, eliminating the defending Cup champions from the post-season and securing a playoff berth for the Winnipeg Jets.
Change was everywhere, and more change could be coming. Depending on what happens Friday and Saturday, the Eastern Conference playoff picture could have three teams (the Sens, Capitals and Islanders) who weren’t in the 2014 post-season, and the Western Conference will have four teams (Vancouver, Nashville, Calgary and Winnipeg) in this year’s playoffs who weren’t there last year. A 43.75 percent playoff turnover rate is one thing, but it’s not just the fact there are potentially seven new post-season teams this year that’s so intriguing; it’s the great distance teams are falling that has NHL executives clenching their teeth and always worrying about what’s ahead. Read more