March 16 vs. Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: 106.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
New York Islanders 30-30-10
Washington Capitals 40-23-7
A night after they met at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, the Caps and the Islanders are doing it all over again, but this time back in Washington at Capital One Arena on Friday night. Friday's game between the Caps and Isles is the season finale between the old Patrick Division rivals.
Washington took the opener of the back-to-back set, rolling to a 7-3 victory over the Islanders in Brooklyn. After falling down 1-0 early, the Caps put a crooked number on the board in all three periods, and they chased Isles goaltender Christopher Gibson to the bench after scoring five times on a dozen shots.
Thursday's victory gives Washington a modest three-game winning streak for the first time in more than two months, and the Caps will seek to extend that run to four on Friday against the Isles.
"It's obviously huge for us," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom, who netted his 18th goal of the season on a Washington power play in the second period of Thursday's victory over the Islanders. "I feel like these last 13 games here are going to be huge and if you look at the standings, too, it's really tight out there.
"You have to get these points, especially against division teams. So good job tonight, and we're going back at it [Friday] again."
Thursday's win lifts the Caps back into a tie with Pittsburgh for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division standings, and Washington holds two games in hand on the Penguins with one head-to-head game remaining between the Metro rivals.
With the win on Thursday, the Caps are now six points clear of both Philadelphia and Columbus, currently tied for third in the division.
Washington has played better games recently than it did in Brooklyn on Thursday, but the results haven't always been in the Caps' favor. They got away with playing a lesser game and winning by a multi-goal margin because of some good bounces offensively, something they were lacking last week in their journey through California.
"I thought we had some good fortune," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "I didn't think we played really a good first. I thought we were a little slow out of the box - our legs weren't moving. I thought we were actually better in the second and played more the right way in a lot of areas. Once we got up 5-2, we sort of end up sitting back a little bit more than we wanted to, but I thought we defended okay; we defended hard for the most part. But I wouldn't say that was an 'A' game for us at all."
New York jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a Brock Nelson goal at 2:19 of the first, and the Caps were on their heels a bit until the middle of that first frame. Washington scored twice in less than a minute to take a 2-1 lead, but the Isles answered back right away, tying the game at 2-2.
Dmitry Orlov's goal late in the first period put the Caps on top for good, and extended their record to 23-0-1 when leading after 20 minutes of play this season, the best mark in the league.
Two more Washington goals in the second and another pair in the third proved to be too much for even the offensively potent Islanders to overcome.
Six different Capitals found the back of the net on Thursday, and T.J. Oshie scored twice - including an empty-netter - to end a 19-game drought stretching back to Jan. 31.
"It felt nice," says Oshie, of breaking his goal drought and adding an empty-netter. "More importantly than that, it was nice to get a good team win with scoring up and down the lineup.
"I liked the start," says Isles winger Andrew Ladd of his team's play in the early going on Thursday. "It's just staying on the gas throughout the game. Obviously you want to jump all over that team and then force them to try to create offense and take chances. To me, that's they way you beat them, getting ahead and then just playing a strong game from there."
That's where Washington will have to be much improved in Friday's rematch, at the start. The Caps have waded into a few games of late, and coming out with a strong start in the second of back-to-back games against the same opponent is going to be critical. It's difficult to win back-to-back games in the NHL, and even more so when facing the same team on both nights. But you can't win them both until you win the first one, and the Caps have taken care of that half of the business.
"The start is going to be very crucial for us," says Oshie of Fridy's rematch. "We're going back to our own barn. [The Islanders], they're in a tough situation. I don't expect them to back down by any means. The second night of a back-to-back usually gets a little more nasty. The emotions from the night before, there is not enough time for them to release and to get out, so I expect a physical game [on Friday], and I expect us to step up to the task."
New York's playoff hopes were hanging by a thread going into Thursday's game, and the Caps can all but toss dirt on the Islanders' 2017-18 coffin with a regulation win on Friday. Sitting on 70 points with a dozen games remaining in the season, the Islanders can only get to 94 points if they run the table the rest of the way, and there is no guarantee that 94 points will be enough to get them in. Virtually every square inch of the Islanders' margin for error has dissipated.
After winning 15 of its first 24 games this season (15-7-2), the Isles have won only 15 of 46 games (15-23-8) since that decent start to the season. New York goes into Friday's game in sole possession of last place in the Metropolitan Division standings.