WASHINGTON — The New York Islanders had a two-goal lead in the second period Friday and a chance to return home with a commanding lead in their Eastern Conference First Round series.
Several Islanders said it was at this point, after Kyle Okposo put them in front 3-1, that things went awry. Though the Washington Capitals were down on the scoreboard, they had dominated the puck to that point and continued to do so, eventually taking control of Game 2 in a 4-3 victory at Verizon Center and evening the best-of-7 series at 1-1.
"We had a 3-1 lead, so there is an opportunity but only half the game is done," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "There’s 60 minutes, and we just weren’t as aggressive. There are ups and downs and you’ve got to overcome challenges and adversity. We would have loved to take this one as well. That was our mindset, and obviously after we took the lead, but now we’ve got to bounce back at home."
The Islanders led 1-0 after the first period, but Washington had 31 shot attempts to New York’s 13. The Capitals were struggling to get them on net; the Islanders blocked 15 shots in the first 18 minutes of the game and Jaroslav Halak had to make five first-period saves.
Often a team in Washington’s situation is unable to continue that torrid pace, but the Capitals kept coming in the second period and started to find shooting lanes. They had 32 shot attempts in the second period but trailed 3-2 after 40 minutes.
The Capitals finished the game with 82 attempts, including 78 at even strength. The Islanders blocked 12 shots in the final 42 minutes and eventually couldn’t hold the lead.
"We just sat back," New York defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "They got a nice rebound shot, scored a goal [to make it 3-2]. They caught the momentum, scored on a power play and just kept going. It was unfortunate, but we’re going back home and it is 1-1."
The Islanders sorely missed top-four defenseman Travis Hamonic, who's usually matched against the opposition's top line but hasn't played in this series because of an undisclosed injury. New York won the opener without Hamonic but missed his physical presence in Game 2.
The Capitals didn’t have any power plays in the first two periods but did score twice when a New York player was playing without a stick. Each time the Capitals were able to set up to make it look like a power play, and they converted. Normally possessing the puck will lead to the other team taking penalties, but in this case, as Washington coach Barry Trotz pointed out, at least it led to broken sticks from players trying to block shots.
When the Islanders were able to spend some time in the Capitals zone, Okposo stood out with some strong play along the boards. Tavares was able to protect the puck at one point and find Ryan Strome for an impressive goal.
But too often the puck was at the other end of the ice. Even after the Capitals took a 4-3 lead, they were able to cycle the puck in the Islanders end and bleed the clock late in the third period on multiple long shifts.
"When you take shots and converge on loose pucks, that’s what you do," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of the Capitals' offensive barrage. "That’s been the strength of our team, and for whatever reason tonight, we had chances to shoot the puck and didn’t.
"We didn’t deserve it. [Fourteen] shots after two periods isn’t going to get it done, whether or not we had the lead. We’ve got to get pucks on net, we’ve got to make their [defensemen] turn and we’ve got to make their goalie work."