By Lenn Robbins
Winning the clinching game of a series is the hardest of them all. The Islanders got a brutal reminder of that Tuesday night, courtesy of one of the greatest hockey players of all time.
Having dominated the Capitals and winning the first three games of their best-of-seven series, the Islanders got off to their best start Tuesday night in Game 4, scoring the first two goals and pushing the Capitals to the brink.
Desperate times call for desperate measure and Washington’s highly-criticized, first-year coach Todd Reirden made a desperate move, using his one, precious timeout in the first period. Whatever he said worked.
“I thought it came too easy in the first for us,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “Therefore, we didn’t have enough skin in the game. Not to take anything away from the way they played. They played a complete game. We didn’t respond well enough.”
By midway through the second period Alex Ovechkin had tied the score, 2-2, and the Islanders were reeling on the way to a stunning 3-2 loss. Ovechkin got the game winner in the third. Game 5, a game the Islanders had no interest in playing, is Thursday night.
“Nothing to lose,” Ovechkin said on NBCSN. “We just started playing our game.”
This is where having a veteran, Stanley Cup-winning coach, Barry Trotz, is invaluable. He must find a way to get the Islanders to play their game again.
It’s not only the fact that they gave the Capitals some life. It’s the way in which the Islanders did it. Unlike Game 1, when the Islanders fell behind 2-0 by turning the penalty box into their own private Airbnb before cleaning up their act and rallying for a 4-2 win, the Game 4 loss was a stunning turn of events.
The Islanders came out looking like a team ready to clinch. The Capitals wouldn’t hear of it.
The Islanders had a 9-2 shots on goal edge early on. By the end of the second period, the Capitals led 24-20 and the ice was tilted.
Ovechkin, who tied the score with a rocket in the second, ripped a wicked wrist shot from the right circle giving the Caps their first lead of the night, 3-2, at 3:40. It was his 69th goal of the playoffs for Ovie, moving him ahead of the great Gordie Howe and Sidney Crosby for 18th place.
“Enjoy the moment,” said Ovechkin. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Words the Islanders don’t want to hear.
“We talked about this being the toughest game to win,” said Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “We’ve just got to regroup and go back at them. We’ve put ourselves in a phenomenal position. Now, we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
NOTES: Right win Cal Clutterbuck absorbed a classic, old-school hip check from Washington’s Radko Gudas and did not come out for the third period.