When Mat Barzal scored at 4:28 of overtime to beat the Capitals 2-1 in game three on Sunday, it put the Islanders on the verge of advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight year. Now up three games to none on Washington, the Islanders can finish off a four-game sweep with a win in game four on Tuesday night in an 8pm contest at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. All of the games have been tight, so the Islanders know that finishing off the Capitals will not be easy.
In fact, closeout games in general are a challenge.
“There’s no tougher game than a game to clinch a series,” said Islanders Captain Anders Lee. “It’s going to be no different in game four. It’s going to be a tough game. We still got a lot of work to do to make this thing right.”
The Islanders certainly have their own history as well as NHL history on their side. This will be the eleventh time in franchise history that the Islanders have had a 3-0 series lead. The Isles have won all ten previous series and they’ve finished off seven of those series in a four-game sweep. In terms of NHL history, there have only been four teams that have rallied from being down three games to none to come back and win the series.
Those teams were the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Detroit Red Wings in the 1942 Stanley Cup Finals, the Islanders against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1975 Quarterfinals, the Philadelphia Flyers against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinal, and the Los Angeles Kings against the San Jose Sharks in the opening round of the 2014 playoffs.
The Islanders are in a really good spot, but as baseball legend Yogi Berra once said “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over”.
“For us to be up 3-0 now feels good and we know the next one is going to be a tough one,” said Barzal.
Series Schedule (Islanders lead 3-0)
Game 1: Wednesday August 12th…Islanders 4 Capitals 2
Game 2: Friday August 14th…Islanders 5 Capitals 2
Game 3: Sunday August 16th…Islanders 2 Capitals 1 (OT)
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)
Most of this Islanders group has the experience of being up three games to none in last year’s opening round against the Penguins, a series in which the Islanders did finish off the four-game sweep. So, as they get ready to try and complete a sweep of Washington, the Islanders do have some experience in this area that they can lean on.
“Last year was last year,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “I don’t know if it’s going to help, but I know it’s not going to hurt. We’re just concerned on ourselves mostly. We understand what’s at stake and we don’t look too far ahead.”
Brock Nelson scored the game winning goal in game four against the Penguins last April as the Isles prevailed 3-1 in Pittsburgh to complete the sweep. In this year’s playoffs, the veteran forward has been a solid contributor with three goals and three assists for six points. He knows that the task at hand for the Islanders is going to be difficult.
“Obviously trying to close a team out, it’s one of the toughest things,” said Nelson. “They’re going to come hard. We have to raise our level to finish the job. We got ourselves in a good spot, but the work isn’t done yet.”
And the team was back at work on Monday as they prepare for game four.
Trotz told reporters during Monday’s Zoom meeting that the team went through a practice that he said wasn’t a long one but that the team was “pointed in what we wanted”. An educated guess or just stating the obvious here, but that had to mean working on a power play that is just 1-14 in the series. The Islanders have been strong against the Capitals at five on five, but if there’s one area where the Islanders can improve on to finish off Washington and to succeed throughout the playoffs, it’s capitalizing with the man advantage.
“We know we have another level in our game which is really good to know,” Trotz.
If the Islanders can get to the next level in time for game four, they could be on their way to an early punching of their ticket to the NHL’s round of eight. The saying and the popular cliche in sports is that the closeout game is the touchest one to win, but the Islanders have historically excelled in that area. Finishing off a team like the Capitals in four straight seemed like a monumental task just a week ago. Now, the Isles are just sixty minutes, or more, away from doing just that.