The Islanders took home-ice advantage from the Washington Capitals by earning a win in D.C., but the feeling didn’t really sink in until Saturday morning, with the sight of thousands of orange towels draping the seats at Nassau Coliseum.
Orange towels over blue seats invoked feelings of two years ago, when the Islanders played the Pittsburgh Penguins in the postseason, and have the team amped up for Sunday’s high-noon tilt, nationally televised on NBC.
“It reminded me of a couple of years ago,” Josh Bailey said. “Everyone that was a part of that knows what it’s like and it’s going to be tough to sleep tonight thinking about that.”
The Islanders had a spectacular home record this season, winning 25 times at the Coliseum, tied for most in the Metropolitan Division. If the final regular-season home game, tailgating and the 2013 playoffs are any indication, the boisterous, in-your face, give-us-a-piece-of-em crowd will make Nassau Coliseum an intimidating barn for the 23 men on the opposing side rocking the red.
“We have to use it to our advantage,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “They gained some energy in that second period through their crowd and that’s what playoff hockey is all about. When you get to play at home, it’s an exciting time, not only for the players, but the fans. We fed off this crowd all year. It’s a big reason why we had the home record that we had.”
The Islanders knew they were going to get a harder game from the Capitals and a louder Verizon Center for Game Two. Now, they’re giving the Capitals a heads up, don’t expect the same, expect more.
“We’re going to come with some pretty serious intensity in Nassau,” Cal Clutterbuck said after Game Two. “It’ll be up to them to match us.”
There will be adjustments. For all the hoopla made about Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals power play, Nicklas Backstrom is the Capitals leading scorer after two games. Backstrom showed his game-breaking ability, scoring three points, including a goal on a one-on-four rush, and will need to be a focus Sunday.
The Islanders also have to account for Tom Wilson, who threw seven hits in his series debut. Wilson is to the Capitals as Matt Martin is to the Islanders, a hard-hitting, relentless bodychecker and a spark for his team. He was one of six Capitals, along with Ovechkin, Brooks Orpik, Karl Alzner, Matt Nisnaken and Tim Gleason, who combined for one fewer hit (37) than the entire Islanders team (38) Friday.
“It’s going to be a physical grind, you have to be willing to pay the price,” Capuano said. “Toughness to me is being able to take a hit to make a play and when you have to block a shot, whatever it takes, you have to do it.”
While the Islanders are a physical team in their own right, the best adjustment they can make for Game Three is to play with speed, possess the puck and shoot. The Islanders out-attempted the Caps 65-55 in Game One, but were out-attempted 82-51 in Game Two.
“They were a hungry team that played with a lot of energy,” Anders Lee said. “If we play like we did in Game One, it’ll be a lot better. I think we were able to control the game more, our structure was better and our physicality was there.”
Capuano kept the same lineup from Game One to Game Two, though there could be changes Sunday. Capuano said Mikhail Grabovski is pretty close to playing. Grabovski has been out since Feb. 19.
“We’ll have to look closely as to what we want to do, as far as the matchups at home,” Capuano said. “There’s a chance as we move forward that other guys are going to get an opportunity.”
Capuano did not offer an update on Travis Hamonic, who will likely miss Game Three. Jaroslav Halak is expected to start in goal after turning in a 31-save performance Friday. Braden Holtby skated with the Capitals on Saturday, after missing Thursday’s practice and Friday’s game with an illness. Capitals Head Coach said Holtby was his starter had he been healthy enough to play Game Two and will likely be in net Sunday.
The pregame festivities start at 10 a.m. in the Coliseum plaza, while puck drop is at noon.