The New York Islanders played one of their most inspired games of the season on Thursday.
Playing at Verizon Center, where the Islanders were eliminated from the playoffs in a game seven loss last year, was part of their motivation, as was the drive to prove that the points gap between the teams was not indicative of where they were on the ice.
They battled hard for 60 minutes, and in a fast-paced and frenetic game, it was an Alex Ovechkin goal late in the third period that sealed the Islanders’ fate – a biting 3-2 loss to the Capitals.
“It was one of the best games we played,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “It was a hard-fought game, it’s tough to come away with nothing.”
Mikhail Grabovski and Josh Bailey had the Islanders in a 2-2 tie late, but Ovechkin broke the deadlock with 2:40 to play, spoiling the Isles’ hard-fought effort. The 26-23 shot margin didn’t quite tell the story. The Islanders had 33 shots blocked and another 12 that missed the net. In total, they out-attempted the Capitals 71-41.
“It’s frustrating regardless of how we’ve been playing, all the good things we did,” John Tavares said. “It stings because the guys played hard and [Jaroslav Halak] played well and we had our opportunities and we let one slip.”
The Islanders opened the scoring early, as Grabovski netted his ninth of the season and third in three games. Grabovski carried the puck into the Capitals’ zone and passed off, but kept his feet moving, circling around to the front of the net where he swept a rebound past Braden Holtby at 1:55.
The Capitals answered back, as T.J. Oshie tied the score 1-1. Oshie was the trailer on a rush with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the two stars drawing the Islanders defensemen down low. With the defensive focus down low, Backstrom passed back to Oshie, who beat Jaroslav Halak with a one-timer at 7:55.
Andre Burakovsky put Washington ahead 2-1 late in the second period. In an odd sequence with Halak caught a little outside his net, Jason Chimera banked the puck off of the goalie’s back and Burakovsky swooped in to poke it over the line, giving the Capitals the lead with 1:18 to play in the period.
The Capitals entered the game 26-0-1 when leading after two periods, but the Islanders were not going to go quietly, as Josh Bailey tied the score 5:38 into the third period. Marek Zidlicky skated the puck down to the goal line and found Bailey, who outmuscled Jason Chimera and Dimitry Orlov, in front before chipping in the tying goal.
The game opened up in the final 10 minutes, with the teams trading chances at both ends. Anders Lee was nearly sprung on a breakaway, but a tipped pass sent things back the other way, leading to an Ovechkin one-timer that Halak slid over and stopped. Halak came up with another clutch save on Ovechkin who kept and shot on a two-on-one with Oshie with just under five minutes to go.
But Ovechkin was hot and the Islanders were ultimately playing with fire. The Capitals captain eventually got the best of Halak, finding open ice in the slot and one-timing a laser stick side past the Islanders goalie.
“It was a really intense game and so close, you knew it was going to come down to one goal and they happened to get it,” Thomas Hickey said. “I thought we had a really good effort and most nights that’s going to win you a lot of games against any team and sometimes it’s going to beat them, but just not quite enough. We can be proud of our effort.”
It was an inspired effort in a gritty, physical playoff-type game. Unfortunately for the Islanders, they didn’t get the two points to match it.
This rivalry is far from over. The Islanders and Capitals meet again in two weeks at Barclays Center.