In 2015, the Islanders and Capitals battled through a back and forth opening round playoff series that had its share of exciting moments and physicality. It was a knock-down drag-out series that went the distance before the Capitals prevailed 2-1 in game seven in Washington. The series had a little bit of everything and it featured the final hockey game played at Nassau Coliseum before the Islanders moved to Barclays Center.
On Wednesday, the playoff rivalry between the Islanders and Capitals will be renewed when they play game one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. It will be a series in which both teams will, in some cases, be able to see each other in a mirror. As soon as the Capitals beat the Bruins 2-1 in round robin play on Sunday to set up this matchup, both teams now find themselves in a series that has one heck of a juicy storyline that dates back to that 2015 series.
“What I do remember from that series is obviously that was the last year of the Coliseum,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz who was the Capitals’ coach at the time. “It was physical, it was viscous and it was highly emotional. You had two teams that had the physical elements. I think we were within a point of each other during the regular season. All that being said, it was a highly competitive highly emotional series so I expect a lot of the same.”
Trotz was behind the visiting bench, ironically now the home bench, for the last game played at the Coliseum before the Islanders moved to Brooklyn, a 3-1 win in game six that forced the deciding contest. Trotz would lead the Capitals to the Stanley Cup title in 2018 but Trotz and the team could not come to terms on a new contract making him a “free agent” and the Islanders hired him last season.
After that game seven loss in 2015, the ice was melted at the Coliseum for the last time but the rivalry between the two teams is as hot as ever.
“It was probably the most demanding series that I have every been a part of in terms of physicality,” said Islanders forward Matt Martin. “It was a hard-fought series. We unfortunately came up short in game seven. Since then, they’ve obviously moved on to win a cup so that’s kind of the same path that we want to go on here.”
This will be the eighth post-season meeting between the Islanders and Capitals with the Isles winning five of the previous seven. Early in the regular season, the Islanders and Capitals were battling for first place in the Metropolitan Division but even with a 17-game point streak, the Islanders weren’t able to jump past the Caps. And then when the calendar flipped to January, the Islanders fell on hard times and then the season was shut down in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But after knocking off the Florida Panthers in four games in the qualifying round, the Islanders now find themselves in a series that one would think was inevitable when Trotz came over to coach the Islanders. It’s a series between a team that Trotz led to a Stanley Cup against a team that Trotz now coaches that has the same aspiration. There are also some traits, styles and mindsets that the Islanders now have that Trotz instilled with the Capitals when he was in Washington.
“We play similar hockey,” said Islanders forward Casey Cizikas. “We both have four lines that can play. It’s physical and it’s going it be big time hockey and you have to be ready for the task at hand. It’s not going to be easy.”
Game 1: Wednesday August 20th…Islanders at Capitals…3pm
Game 2: Friday August 14th…Islanders at Capitals…8pm
Game 3: Sunday August 16th…Capitals at Islanders…Noon
Game 4: Tuesday August 18th…Capitals at Islanders…8pm
Game 5: Thursday August 20th…Islanders at Capitals…TBD
Game 6: Saturday August 22nd…Capitals at Islanders…TBD
Game 7: Sunday August 23rd…Islanders at Capitals…TBD
How has Trotz transformed the Islanders into somewhat of a mirror-image of the Capitals?
“I think maybe a little bit systems-wise,” said Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy. “We switched some things up from where we were then (during the 2015 series). I think we’re much a more detailed team. Our defensive skills and the way we defend as a team and how we play in our own end will create offense for out team. I think that was one big change for us.”
Trotz brought immediate success last season to an Islanders team that did not make the playoffs the season before and had seen former captain John Tavares leave as a free agent to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. Trotz brought a disciplined system to the Islanders and he led them to the playoffs and a first round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. In this series, he certainly has intimate knowledge of the opponent and will try to devise a plan to shut down Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.
“We’ll be ready,” said Martin. “It’s not going to be easy by any means. They’re a great hockey team. They’re battle tested. They’ve accomplished the ultimate goal. They know what it takes and we believe that we have the group in here that can do that also. Game one is going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully we can set the tone and come away with the win and find a way to win the series.”
This should really be a great series between two divisional rivals. The storylines start with the fact that Trotz coached the Capitals before the Islanders but the reality is now that there will be two good teams on the ice that have a common bond.
After all, Trotz taught the Islanders how to be successful, just like he did in Washington.
“It’s two good teams that have some similar traits,” said Trotz. I think both teams are ready for the challenge.”
Five years after the Islanders and Capitals went seven games, it would not be a surprised if these two teams went the distance again in another heavyweight battle.