Cam Cole: Islanders make short work of Capitals in OT

 

 
 
 
 
New York Islanders' John Tavares (91) scores the winning goal past Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby in the overtime period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL  playoff series Sunday, April 19, 2015, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 2-1.
 

New York Islanders' John Tavares (91) scores the winning goal past Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby in the overtime period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL playoff series Sunday, April 19, 2015, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 2-1.

Photograph by: Seth Wenig, AP

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. – On the 28th anniversary of the longest playoff game in New York Islanders history, John Tavares ended one of their shortest.

Fifteen seconds was all it took from the opening faceoff of extra time Sunday. Not a bit like the early morning hours of Easter Sunday, April 19, 1987, when Pat Lafontaine’s screened shot at 8:42 of quadruple overtime beat the Washington Capitals’ Bob Mason in Game 7 of the Patrick Division semifinal.

That was as much about fatigue as virtuosity.

This was over before the flood had dried on the ice.

Tavares, the Islanders’ young captain --- who never got the chance to be an Olympic hero because he tore knee ligaments in Sochi --- got in on the forecheck to short-circuit a soft clearing attempt by Caps defenceman John Carlson, then raced to the net to chip the second rebound of Nick Leddy’s point shot past goalie Braden Holtby, who had left just enough of a gap on the short-side post.

“Well, it was an early game, so we had all day if we needed to,” Tavares joked, when reminded of the anniversary.

“But the series is mentally and physically challenging, and though both teams are going through it, it’s just nice that you’re the one that comes out on top.”

The 2-1 victory gave the Islanders the series lead by the same margin, with Game 4 here Tuesday night. It’s the first time they’ve led a playoff series since 1993.

“We got a long way to go,” Tavares said.

“I expected a seven-gamer, and I’m expecting it from our group, and I’m sure they are, too,” said Washington coach Barry Trotz, whose team rallied from 3-1 down to win Game 2 at home, and trailed in this one too, until Nicklas Backstrom sifted a screened wrist shot off the crossbar and past Jaro Halak with just over six minutes left in regulation.

Kyle Okposo, on a deflection of Lubomir Visnovsky’s point shot, had given the Islanders the lead midway through the second period.

“All our games this year were like this,” Trotz said. “Three overtimes in this building. Both teams ended up with 101 points, so there’s not a lot of separation.”

He wasn’t pleased with Carlson’s weak attempt to clear the zone that led to Tavares’s game winner --- “We have to make a better play. There’s no need to throw it up the wall. We had options, just didn’t pick a good one,” he said --- but the 16,000-plus crowd of leather-lunged Islander faithful, hoping to see the old Nassau Coliseum go out on a high, wasn’t complaining.

Tavares’s goal was only the second-fastest in the team’s playoff overtime history. The late J.P. Parise scored 11 seconds into OT to beat the Rangers on April 11, 1975.

But these Islanders will take it.

The game, spurred on by the passion of the crowd, which reacted to every hit, was punishing and intense from the beginning, and the Isles had the better of it for most of the afternoon, until they lay back trying to protect the lead in the third period.

“When you’re trying to defend the lead, it’s kind of human nature not to be as aggressive,” Tavares said.

They got physical play from almost everyone on the roster and a big day of mano-a-mano defence out of Johnny Boychuk, who helped hold Caps’ Alex Ovechkin to just three shots on goal (nine others were blocked) in 17:51 of ice time. In fact, five players had more shots than The Great 8, and five others had as many, which isn’t a stat you’ll see every day.

Holtby stopped 40 shots in a losing effort. The Capitals put 25 on Jaroslav Halak.

Trotz thought the result had more to do with determination than tactics.

“I mean, we’re the biggest team in the NHL, so if we lean on people like we did in (Game 2), then we’ll have success,” said the Caps coach. “You see it across the NHL, it’s the team that’s willing to win more battles and has higher commitment. Who’s willing to give up more. Today, they won more battles.”

It didn’t help that the visitors lost centre Eric Fehr after a first-period hit, “and a couple guys had equipment problems and I think I probably went through about 35 line combinations” Trotz said. “So we were in scramble mode.”

Tavares said when he thought of Islander OT goals, he thought of Bobby Nystrom’s winner in 1980, that clinched the first of the Isles’ four Cups in a row.

“This isn’t quite there, but any time you get an OT winner it’s exciting,” he said.

“I didn’t sleep very well last night, I think in anticipation of the game, and it being an early (noon local time) game, so I got here about 9:15.”

The parking lot was already filling up with tailgaters.

Later, after they had honked all their car horns to the cadence of “Let’s Go, Islanders,” the lot emptied and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum stood in the still-bright sunshine, a wistful reminder of a long ago era of greatness.

The towels draped over the back of every seat Sunday said: “Let’s Make History. One More Time.”

Who knows; maybe the old barn has one more momentous springtime in it.

ccole@vancouversun.com

 
 
 
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New York Islanders' John Tavares (91) scores the winning goal past Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby in the overtime period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL  playoff series Sunday, April 19, 2015, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 2-1.
 

New York Islanders' John Tavares (91) scores the winning goal past Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby in the overtime period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL playoff series Sunday, April 19, 2015, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 2-1.

Photograph by: Seth Wenig, AP

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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