In game one on Wednesday, the Islanders trailed the Capitals 2-0 late in the second and then 2-1 going to the third when they outscored Washington 3-0 to win the game 4-2. Then in game two on Friday night in Toronto, the Islanders took a 3-2 lead to the third period and went into lockdown mode on their way to a 5-2 win as they take a 2-0 series lead in the best of seven opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Brock Nelson’s second period breakaway goal broke a 2-2 tie and was the game winner, but the Islanders suffocated the Capitals in the third period before a Cal Clutterbuck goal gave the Isles a 4-2 lead and Captain Anders Lee salted the game away with an empty netter.
Two games. Two Wins. Two dominant third periods.
“The two third periods have kind of been the best periods of our game and I think it’s going to be important that we can get off to better starts,” said Islanders defenseman Ryan Pullock. “We’ve done a good job in the third of staying aggressive at the right times and kind of clogging things up and staying to our structure.”
After not having to face the powerful Capitals power play in the first two periods, the Islanders penalty killing unit had to go to work in the third shutting down a pair of Washington power plays during the first half of the period. From there, the Islanders suffocated the Capitals the rest of the way including about a three-minute stretch where the Islanders kept the puck in the Washington zone with tremendous forechecking and tenacity.
The Islanders have been able to play to their identity for the most part in this series regardless of how the Capitals have chosen to play. The third periods, especially in game two, is their blueprint for success.
“For the most part our guys were sacrificing the body and getting pucks out when they had opportunities,” said Islanders forward Matt Martin. “And then the response after the power plays was huge because even though they don’t score, they could definitely get some momentum from that.”
Series Schedule (Islanders lead 2-0)
Game 1: Wednesday August 20th…Islanders 4 Capitals 2
Game 2: Friday August 14th…Islanders 5 Capitals 2
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 (If necessary)
Game 6: Saturday August 22nd…Capitals at Islanders…TBD (If necessary)
Game 7: Sunday August 23rd…Islanders at Capitals…TBD (If necessary)
The Islanders have dominated both third periods in this series and they’ve done it in different ways. They came from behind in game one and then protected the lead beautifully in game two but in both cases, they played their style of hockey and were able to frustrate the Capitals.
Period three of game two was all about hard work and being disciplined.
“I think probably the biggest thing (in game two) is we stayed aggressive,” said Pullock. “We kind of hemmed them in and we were smart with the puck in the (offensive) zone and we limited them. They didn’t really have any odd-man rushes which is crucial.”
With a 2-0 series lead heading into game three on Sunday at noon, the Islanders have the upper hand at this point despite not playing a complete game. The third period brilliance is a big reason why the Islanders have been able to come out on top in both games and right now they’re clearly the better team. But the Capitals have a winning pedigree and they have the offensive firepower and physicality to get back in the series.
Playing a strong third period is one thing, but playing a strong game from the opening face-off to the final horn is how you win on a regular basis and compete for a Stanley Cup.
“Our group prides itself on playing sixty-minute games and longer if needed,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “They give you an honest effort night in and night out and they understand the importance of the end goal of winning the hockey game and how you’re going to go about doing it. They got a really good belief. It starts with your older players and your key players and we’ve got some really good leaders.”
Those leaders like Anders Lee, Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas, Brock Nelson and Leo Komarov have played an integral role in the first two games of this series for the Islanders and they’ve risen to the occasion when it’s meant the most…by locking it down and taking the air out of the Capitals in the third periods.