The New York Islanders gave up five third-period goals on Saturday afternoon, ultimately falling to the Washington Capitals 6-4 at Nassau Coliseum.
It was a gut-wrenching loss for the Isles, who entered the third period up 4-1, only to see their lead slip away. Alex Ovechkin's second hat trick in as many games powered the Caps comeback and sent the Isles to a second-straight regulation defeat.
"They raised their level. They came out flying, down in the game and got one early and it snowballed," captain Anders Lee said. "We have to stop the bleeding. We have to dig in and find a way. We can't accept that."
Video: NYI Recap: Toews, Islanders let lead slip in 6-4 loss
ISLES SEE LEAD SLIP AWAY IN THE THIRD:
When Devon Toews (1G, 2A) put the Isles up 4-1 at 17:25 of the second period, it appeared that the Islanders were going to cruise to a win over the NHL-leading Capitals.
Through 40 minutes, it looked like the Isles had shook off a last-minute loss to the Rangers and responded with a solid effort against a divisional rival, scoring four goals and getting production out of both special teams. They'd even chased Braden Holtby, who allowed four goals on 22 shots and was replaced by Ilya Samsonov.
But Barry Trotz, who coached Washington from 2014-18, knew not to count out the Caps and warned his club that they needed to keep their foot on the gas.
"After the second period, we talked about how this team has championship pedigree. They've come back from a number of games this year," Trotz said. "[We said] you can't take our foot off the pedal. Make sure you get pucks to the next level. We didn't do that. There's a level that you have to raise when the game is on the line and we didn't raise it."
The comeback started innocently enough, with Carl Hagelin getting inside position on Ross Johnston and tapping in a Richard Panik feed to make it 4-2. Two minutes and 45 seconds later, Ovechkin scored his second of the night, as his drive to the net caromed off Ryan Pulock's skate and in. That put enough unease in Trotz to call a time out, which sparked his team in the short term, but couldn't hold off the Capitals pressure.
Video: WSH 6 vs NYI 4: Anders Lee
Tom Wilson deflected a Dmitry Orlov shot past Semyon Varlamov to tie the score 4-4 at 14:32 and Jakub Vrana delivered the dagger at 17:30, skating in off an Isles turnover at the blue line before beating Varlamov far side at 17:30. Vrana's goal was the Capitals fourth in a 14:57 span. Ovechkin iced the game with an empty-netter at 19:04, completing the hat trick while also tying Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time in goals with 692.
"You look at the goals. Guys that are a little smaller are getting to the net. Veteran guys are turning pucks over. You have to make hard plays… and we were making soft plays," Trotz said.
The Isles cited puck management as a contributing factor to the third period collapse.
"On the winner, it's on me, there's no question about it," Josh Bailey said citing a turnover at the Isles blueline. "It's a simple play I tried to make and I didn't make it. Unfortunately it ended up in the back of our net. It stings."
Saturday marked the second time this season the Isles had given up a three-goal lead in the third period and first since a 4-3 OT loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 7. Unlike the Pittsburgh loss, where the Isles were able to salvage a point, the Isles were only left with a lesson learned the hard way.
"It's a tough loss, no question," Bailey said. "It stings. We'll try to right our wrong tomorrow night."
Video: WSH 6 vs NYI 4: Josh Bailey
SPECIAL TEAMS A POSITIVE IN LOSS:
One positive the Isles drew from Saturday's defeat was the play of their special teams. After losing the special teams battle on Thursday vs the Rangers, the Islanders got quality games out of both their power play and penalty kill.
The power play went 1-4, with Jordan Eberle's 3-1 goal coming on the man advantage. The penalty kill was a perfect 4-4, keeping a potent Caps power play at bay.
NELSON, CIZIKAS, EBERLE AND TOEWS SCORE:
Brock Nelson scored his team-leading 19th goal of the season at 13:11 of the first period to make it 1-1. Casey Cizikas scored his 10th of the season at 15:49 of the first - his third goal in last two games against the Capitals. Jordan Eberle netted his seventh goal of the season - and fourth in six games - to make it 3-1 and Toews made it 4-1 with his first goal since Dec. 12. Toews' three-point night was a career-high.
The Islanders wrap up a back-to-back set on Sunday evening when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes. Puck drop is at 5 p.m.