With thunderous checks and a big goal, Isles’ Kyle Okposo having huge impact in Game 3 vs. Caps

Kyle Okposo (Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

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

Capitals protect shaky Grubauer to even series with Islanders

Philipp Grubauer

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.
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Which Game 1 loser faces the most pressure to win Game 2?

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

If you’ve just lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs or if you’re annoyed at the header of this article, you’re likely thinking, “Sheesh, it’s one game, this is not news, mountain out of a molehill,” etc. And you’d be right in certain cases. You’d be wrong in others, however. No two series are created equal, and some Game 1 defeats were more alarming than others.

Here’s a brief rundown of the Game 1 losers, ranked from most justified in panicking to least.

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If Isles’ young guns continue stepping up as they did in Game 1 win, Caps are in trouble

The Islanders' Josh Bailey celebrates after scoring against Washington in the second period in Game One of their first round Eastern Conference playoff series. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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

Isles’ Ryan Strome picks a corner in traffic, sends seeing-eye puck past Caps’ Braden Holtby

Islanders center Ryan Strome celebrates after scoring a second period goal against the Capitals in Game One of their first-round playoff series. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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

2015 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders

John Tavares will try to lead the Islanders to glory. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

WSH NYI head to head

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

Prospect Hot List: Vande Sompel charging from the back in Oshawa

Mitch Vande Sompel (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The Frozen Four is in the books and it was a classic, with Providence College winning its first-ever hockey title over Boston University. But the season still might not be over for Terriers frosh Jack Eichel, as he and Nashville pick Jimmy Vesey of Harvard were expected to play for Team USA at the World Championship in Switzerland. Meanwhile, we’re getting very close to the world under-18s as well in the Czech Republic. With CHL playoffs still going strong, let’s cruise around the prospect world once again.

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After Brossoit’s dandy debut, here are the top five first games of 2014-15

Laurent Brossoit (Andy Devlin/Getty Images)

Thursday night, Laurent Brossoit made his NHL debut between the pipes for the Edmonton Oilers. By the end of the evening, Brossoit was trotted out as the game’s first star after turning aside 49 of the 51 shots he faced.

Brossoit’s 49 stops made him the first goaltender since Manny Legace in 1998 to turn aside that much rubber in his debut. Even with his miraculous performance, the Oilers failed to take home the victory and were downed 3-1 by the San Jose Sharks.

Scoring the game-winning goal for the Sharks was Bryan Lerg, who, at 29, was also playing his first game in the big league. Lerg had bounced around the AHL for seven seasons heading into Thursday’s game, but he made the most of his first shot at NHL action, scoring with 2:52 remaining in the third period to lift the Sharks to victory.

Excluding Brossoit’s incredible first outing, here are the five best debuts of 2014-15: Read more