For the eighth time in their last ten post season series, the Washington Capitals will play a Game 7. That fate was sealed when the Capitals lost what might have been the final NHL game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum this afternoon, 3-1, to the New York Islanders.
For the fifth time in six games in this series the Islanders opened the scoring. This time it came less than seven minutes into the game when John Tavares collected a loose puck just outside the Capitals’ blue line, skated into the Caps’ zone, backing off defenseman John Carlson. He then cut to the middle and fired a shot across his body that caught goalie Braden Holtby leaning the wrong way as the puck sailed short side to give the Islanders the 1-0 lead.
That lead held up for most of the rest of the period, through two Washington power plays. However, the third power play in the period proved to be the charm for the Caps just before intermission. John Carlson started and ended the scoring play. He started it by sending a long pass from his own end to Troy Brouwer at the Islanders’ blue line. Brouwer skated in and snapped a shot that goalie Jaorslav Halak stopped but could not control. The puck bounced out to Alex Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle, and he found Carlson drifting in on the right side. From the top of the right wing faceoff circle Carlson let fly with a shot that beat Halak with just 4.3 seconds left in the period.
That did it for the scoring until the third period when the Islanders broke through. John Tavares skated into the Capitals’ zone and carried the puck deep. He was met behind the Caps’ goal line by Ovechkin and Karl Alzner, who separated him from the puck. Ovechkin searched for the puck, but it slid around the boards to Nick Leddy along the left wing wall. He found Nikolay Kulemin darting down the middle, and when Kulemin took the pass he had only Holtby to beat. He took Leddy’s pass and curled the puck around Holtby’s right pad to give the Islanders the lead they would not relinquish with 9:27 left.
Cal Clutterbuck added an empty net goal with 52.6 seconds left to send the Islander fans home happy and with a winning memory of what could be their last visit to Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders winning by a 3-1 margin and forcing a Game 7 on Monday night in Washington.
-- In the post-2005 lockout era, this was the third time that the Caps lost a Game 6 on the road with an opportunity to close out the series. In the other two instances – against Montreal in 2010 and against the New York Rangers in 2013 – the Caps lost Game 7 at home.
-- This was the third time in the series in which the Caps outshot the Islanders (39-38), the first of those games that the Caps lost.
-- Alex Ovechkin was on ice for all four goal scored in the game. That, of course, is not a good thing in that he was on ice for all three goals against.
-- The Caps had a 40-33 edge in the faceoff circle, but that is somewhat deceiving. Jay Beagle accounts for the margin, going 15-for-19 (78.9 percent).
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had six shots on goal, giving him 13 in his last two games and 20 for the series. He is second to Ovechkin (27) in shots on goal.
-- Tom Wilson, who has been a physical presence in this series, skated only seven shifts and 3:41 in this game. A third of that came on one shift in the second period (1:12).
-- This was the first time that the Capitals scored a power play goal in a playoff game and lost since they dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals, a game in which they went 1-for-4 with the man advantage. The Caps had gone five straight games with a win when scoring a power play goal.
-- Despite the loss, Braden Holtby’s save percentage inched up ever so slightly. Saving 35 of 37 shots (.946 for the game) left him at .945 in five games in the post season, fourth in the league.
-- John Carlson had 11 shot attempts for the game to lead all players for both teams. He is fourth among NHL defensemen in shots on goal in the post season (17).
-- The Caps killed the only Islander power play they faced, making them 13-for-13 in this series, the only team to have a perfect penalty kill in the first round.
In the end...
If practice makes perfect, the Capitals will come out on top on Monday night. They will be playing their eighth Game 7 in the last eight years, their sixth on home ice. Of their previous five Games 7 on home ice they have won just once, riding a late Sergei Fedorov goal over the glove of Henrik Lundqvist to beat the Rangers, 2-1, in 2009. In the other four games the Caps were outscored by a 16-5 margin.
The Caps get a chance to drive a stake through the heart of the demon who made their lives miserable in one of those Games 7 – Jaroslav Halak -- who beat the Caps in Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinal as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. The Caps will not have a grizzled veteran such as Sergei Fedorov to lead them in that quest. No, this one is on the players who studied at the master’s knee when they beat the Rangers back in 2009. It is their turn as veterans to lead now. For Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, their time has come. We will see if they are up to that challenge.