T.J. Oshie’s second period would have made him the hero if the story had a happier ending. The veteran winger scored two goals on the power play, then made a key defensive play to keep a puck out of the net.
But the Washington Capitals‘ lead, while deserved at the time, was tenuous. That’s when Barry Trotz’s New York Islanders started chipping away.The Capitals saw two strong periods of hockey go to waste by allowing four unanswered goals and posting a 4-2 loss to the Islanders in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Islanders scored their first goal late in the second period before charging ahead with three in the third, including a shorthanded goal on a poor puck-handling mistake by Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin.
“Unfortunately it’s a tough reminder, walking away with a loss after being up after two, that playoff hockey’s here and we have to be ready to play for the full 60 — and as you’ve seen, maybe for an hour or so more after,” Oshie said. “Just a terrible, terrible third. Not our style of hockey and hopefully a good learning lesson for us.”
On a similarly dispiriting note, just when the Capitals got top defenseman John Carlson back from injury for the first time since a late July exhibition game, Nicklas Backstrom left the game injured from a late hit and could miss additional time in the series.
Capitals coach Todd Reirden lamented the “self-inflicted mistakes” that his players owned up to. Even Oshie, the Capitals‘ best performer Wednesday, said two bad changes on his part quickly resulted in two of the Islanders‘ goals.
“The game is over and we will make adjustments,” Reirden said. “We have a veteran team and we will respond accordingly, because (it’s) pretty clear that for the first half of the game that is how we wanted to play and that was pretty clear that was not how we wanted to play in the second half.”
The first period set a physical tone for the rest of the series. New York and Washington combined for five roughing penalties in the first seven minutes, and scraps broke out early and often, with both Carlson and Tom Wilson fighting Islanders captain Anders Lee in the first period.
In one pivotal sequence, Lee laid a shoulder-check on a defenseless Backstrom, and Carlson sprinted in to avenge the deed. Carlson later called Lee’s hit “real dirty” and pointed out that Backstrom is “one of the most aware players in the league,” meaning he rarely is on the receiving end of legal hits.
Backstrom played the rest of the period, but did not return after the first intermission.
Washington went 0-for-3 on power plays in the first frame but broke through on another such opportunity in the second. Without Backstrom available for the top power-play unit, Wilson parked in front of the net and Oshie skated around the zone. Oshie scored from a severe angle in front of the left circle, beating unaware New York goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Oshie’s second power-play tally came in the same period as he, Wilson and Kuznetsov crashed the net for a loose puck. Oshie poked it straight through Varlamov’s legs, a goal that resembled a billiards trick shot.
The Islanders had their first chance at a shorthanded goal when Holtby was caught out of the crease. The puck bounced to within a foot of the goal line, where Oshie slid in and swatted away with his hand — a legal move, because he didn’t actually pick up the puck.
But New York’s rally nonetheless began before the second-period horn. Jordan Eberle sniped a wrister past Holtby’s glove to make it 2-1 at the break, which Holtby admitted changed the momentum of the game. Then Lee scored on a rebound a mere 51 seconds into the third.
The Islanders‘ go-ahead goal was the Capitals‘ worst miscue. On the man advantage, a puck trickled over to Holtby and he passed it out wide to Ovechkin a bit too casually. New York’s Brock Nelson forechecked over to steal the puck from Ovechkin and feed it to teammate Josh Bailey for an easy one-timer.
“I should’ve just held onto it. I thought we had more time,” Holtby said.
Anthony Beauvillier piled on with a goal from close range, catching Holtby out of place again. Holtby finished with 23 saves.Ovechkin, who was held without a point for the fourth straight game, also pointed to how the Islanders took control at the start of the third.
“We get the lead, we just have to play our game. We stop playing and you can see result,” Ovechkin said.
The game began an hour later than scheduled due to the sequence of multiple-overtime games played at Scotiabank Arena. The five-OT game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets pushed the Boston Bruins-Carolina Hurricanes tilt from Tuesday night to Wednesday at 11 a.m.; then Boston and Carolina needed double overtime to sort out their Game 1.
Game 2 is scheduled for Friday at 8 p.m.
“First game in the series doesn’t say much about how it’s gonna go,” Holtby said. “It’s how you respond from here on out.”
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