Tonight, your New York Islanders are back in Maryland to face the Washington Capitals in what should be a very intense & physical quarter final game 5. The series is tied at 2-2, so tonight’s winner will take a big 3-2 lead in the series and the Islanders want it to be them for a return home on Saturday. Mikhail Grabovski has been activated off the team's IR list and will play tonight in place of Brock Nelson, while Lubo Visnovsky remains out indefinitely following a hit from Tom Wilson in game 4. There is no secret that the Isles took exception to what they feel was a dirty hit, but will need to stay focused on winning tonight’s game. The Isles PP is the only unit without a PPG (0/10) in the playoffs so far. That will need to change if they expect to get out of this series.
Griffin Reinhart & Ryan Pulock skated in warm ups and hope to be inserted into tonight’s line up in place of Visnovsky. Both Reinhart & Pulock are excited about the possibility of playing. Reinhart spoke about tonight, “Ever since I came up, I was waiting for the opportunity. It's unfortunate it had to happen like this, but whether I get to play tonight or another time in this series, I'm really excited and I came ready for it." Pulock said he is ready, "I'm obviously excited to be here and I was told to be ready here... If I can get in and help the team, that's my plan." Just prior to game time, Griffin Reinhart was put on the roster and will make his NHL playoff debut.
Bailey-Tavares-Okposo, Lee-Nielsen-Kennedy, Kulemin-Grabovski-Strome, Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck.
Leddy-Boychuk, de Haan-Strait, Hickey-Reinhart & Pulock.
Jaroslav Halak is in net with Michal Neuvirth backing up.
The bad blood already boiling over in the first minute of the opening period as both teams finish their checks. The Capitals come out firing pucks in net from every angle on Halak. Griffin Reinhart opens his playoff debut against Ovechkin. Anders Lee opens the fight card against Wilson. Challenge accepted. Josh Bailey (Tavares & Leddy) snipes one from the circle to give the Isles a 1-0 lead at the 5:48 mark of the period. The Islanders have finished all their hits on Ovechkin. Isles lose zone face off & Kuznetsov slaps in a shot on net to even it out at 1-1 a few minutes later. Both teams continue to play with a noticeable edge to their game. Halak stops Chimera on a breakaway chance to preserve the tie and then Leddy strips Brouwer on another break way chance shortly after. Washington has had the better scoring chances in the game so far. Johnny Boychuk hits Ovechkin hard, but clearly pulls back to avoid a knee on knee. Shots are 10-8 Caps after 1 and dominating in face offs by a 12-6 margin.
The 4th line has come out to play again in the second period. The Islanders doing a better job pressuring the Caps in their own zone and creating some scoring chances. Halak comes up with huge saves on Wilson and then on Kuznetsov. A slow whistle and Calvin de Haan misplay of the puck as Halak tries to cover, and Alzner makes it a 2-1 game for Washington. I like de Haan, but it might be time for the Isles to give Matt Donvan a game. Kuznetsov is called for a high-stick, Isles go the PP but fail to generate much including some complacency by Anders Lee, 0 for 11. Reinhart hasn’t seen much ice time in the period and the defense looks tired and is starting to get outplayed. Thomas Hickey turns over the puck to Ovechkin, who somehow draws a tripping call off Halak as Nielsen collides with him in the crease, Caps to the PP to start the third. There has been suspect officiating in the game so far to say the least. The depleted Islanders defense is looking tired and needs to be ready to answer the Capitals in what should be a hard fought third period. Halak has been huge for New York in the game. Shots are 18-8 in the period and 28-16 Caps after two. Washington dominated in the faceoff circle by a 31-18 margin.
The Islanders kill the penalty to start the third, but Laich converts on the second rebound against Halak after another miscue at the net, 3-1 Washington. De Haan goes to the dressing room, Reinhart takes his place. Cal Clutterbuck called for retaliation slash to Gleason, Isles back to the PK. 4-1, Kuznetsov. Wheels coming off and frustration starting to boil over. 5-1 Washington after a goal by Chimera, Michal Neuvirth will make his Isles playoff debut. Cal Clutterbuck sent off the ice for a slash and a game misconduct, Caps back to the man advantage. Isles go through the motions in a meaningless and fruitless PP chance late in the game to seal their fate in a 5-1 loss and go down 3-2 in the series. This was a statement game and a big opportunity to go back home with a chance to make things happen, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Capitals won by playing their kind of game, something the Isles couldn't manage to do tonight. Shots were 13-7 in the period and 41-23 for the game. The PP was 0 for 2 (0 for 12 in the series) and the PK was 3/3.
Grail Knight of the game goes to Josh Bailey who has played hard and been one of the better guys on the ice over the last few games.
Tonight’s game started well, but too many penalties and without Travis Hamonic, losing Lubo Visnovsky and now Calvin de Haan put too much pressure on a thin Isles defense. Even Johnny Boychuk & Nick Leddy were worn down as the game went on. The Isles weren’t able to clear the puck very well or maintain any kind of proficiency in their transition game. These were the primary reasons Washington was able to score 5 unanswered goals. The Isles power play continues to be missing in action and has really cost them. A sparsely supported Jaro Halak (30 of 35 with a .857Sv%) was pulled, but was really the only reason the Isles were in the game through two periods to begin with. Michal Neuvirth finished the game with 6 saves. Butch Goring has mentioned the Capitals free reign on face off interference and it really showed tonight. The Officiating was horrible, but the Isles didn’t help themselves by the situations they put themselves in throughout the game. Their PP has finally taken them out of the series and the coaching staff is really starting to show their lapses in management.
Capuano deserved to be given an opportunity to lead this team in the playoffs. He led the Isles through a great campaign this season, but has the team off their mark since the All-Star break. I said the Isles would win in 7 and I stand by that as long as adjustments can be made and their defense can hold on. If de Haan is out for any period of time, you have to think Donovan or Pulock will get a shot. Griffin Reinhart had a tough night tonight and the big guns for New York were nonexistent. John Tavares needs to be better in this kind of game. His lack of impact throughout the night cannot be acceptable. The lack of an effective physical effort late in the game was a strange development to see unfold. Mikhail Grabovski looked pretty good in his return to the lineup. Game 6 is at the NVMC and hope this team shows up and answers some of its own questions with a win wrought by pride and determination. Then they can go to Washington and answer all doubts away from home in a game 7 scenario. I am proud of what they have done this season, but if they bow out of the playoffs in the way that they played tonight, there should be some changes moving forward. Hopefully Friday’s practice won’t be optional.
See you Saturday.