By Lenn Robbins
Barry Trotz summed up the Islanders Game 4 loss to the Washington Capitals in his typical, candid manner: “We didn’t have enough push to beat a desperate team.”
Failing on their first attempt to clinch this Eastern Conference best-of-seven, first-round series, the Islanders came out as the desperate team and then leaned on their goaltending and defense to oust the Washington Capitals, 4-0, Thursday night in Toronto.
The No.6-seed Islanders won by dominating the neutral zone just as they did for the majority of this five-game series. They become the first lower-seeded team to advance to the second round by ousting the No.3-seeded Caps.
The series was a validation of sorts for Trotz, who didn’t need any more after leading the Capitals to their only Stanley Cup championship in 2018. The franchise elected not to bring him back and their penny-pinching poor decision benefitted the Islanders.
The Capitals went with Trotz’s assistant, Todd Reirden. Trotz skated coaching circles around his protégé. The Caps have not won a playoff series without Trotz.
“I have a lot of good memories with the core group,” Trotz told Newsday. “We did something very special. So that will never go away. That will be the same until I’m on my death bed, basically. So that will not dissipate. That will be part of who we were in 2018.
“But it’s 2020. It’s a different situation and as I’ve said, I’d love to have that experience with the group that I have right now and the people that I have right now. That’s been the goal from Day One.”
The Islanders got the first two goals of the game from emerging playoff star Anthony Beauvillier. Veteran Nick Leddy lofted a backhanded clear about 185 feet into the vacant Washington goal at 17:47 to clinch the win and start the celebration on the bench. Josh Bailey added one more empty netter.
Goalie Semyon Varlamov posted his first shutout win of the postseason by stopping 21 shots. His biggest save came within two minutes of the third period. Niklas Backstrom, who missed Games 2-4, after getting crushed by Anders Lee in Game 1, got off a rocket from the bottom of the right circle. Varlamov didn’t flinch.
After taking a 2-0 lead in Game 4, the Islanders backed off and the Capitals began crashing the net. This time when they took a 2-0 lead, Varlamov, who was not pleased by the company, shut the door.
“They’re coming hard to the net, that’s for sure,” said Varlamov. “As a goalie, it’s so much harder to play with traffic at the net, every team knows that. As a goalie, you try to battle through and find the puck better. Washington is doing the same thing as other teams are doing, trying to make it tough on the goalies.”