The New York Islanders lack of playoff experience was on full display in their 3-2 loss in Game 4 to the Washington Capitals.
The Washington Capitals have missed the playoffs once over the last 13 years. They’ve won ten playoffs series over that span. The New York Islanders have made the playoffs five times over the same span winning two series.
The Capitals have faced elimination games before but have rarely been swept. Through 13 years and 20 playoff series, the Capitals have only been swept once. It was back in 2011 at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Capitals know what it takes to stave off elimination, even if just temporarily.
Faced with elimination at the hands of the New York Islanders, the Washington Capitals pulled out every stop and every trick to stop the Islanders and it worked because the Isles didn’t have the experience to know what was happening and to center themselves at the task at hand.
Took Their Foot Off the Gas
It’s not that the Islanders are new to the playoffs. They have a few players who’ve been there before. In total, the Islanders roster from Game 4 has a total of 707 playoff games under their belts. Derick Brassard leads the way with 107 playoff games in his career.
Johnny Boychuk, who wasn’t playing has 127 games of playoff experience.
In contrast, the Capitals roster from Game 4 has a total of 1,108 playoff games under their belts. Alex Ovechkin and Carl Hagelin lead the Caps with 135 career playoffs games.
After going down 2-0 within the first half of the first period, Todd Reirden called a time out and addressed his team. The coach gave his team a dressing down from the bench and they responded.
It’s not that that Caps suddenly became more physical after the Isles second goal. The Caps had seven hits in the opening ten minutes. That’s a pace of 42 hits over 60 minutes, they finished with 35 hits.
But after every whistle, in every scrum, the Capitals got in the Islanders face. During play, the Capitals did everything to frustrate the Islanders and get under their skin. The best example of that strategy working was with Mathew Barzal.
The Isles star center barely dodged a big hit from Garnet Hathaway in the first period, who laid on top of Barzal and made sure to let the Islanders top forward know he was there. Instead of just skating away, Barzal got in Hathaway’s face letting the Caps know they were getting in his head.
In the second period, Lars Eller gets away with a hold on Barzal’s jersey but, again, instead of focusing on the play, Barzal tries to get even and goes to the box for holding Eller. Later in the second, Barzal would hold Dmitry Orlov rather than trying to get body position. Ovechkin would tie the game at 2-2 with a goal on the ensuing power play.
From the moment that the second goal went in for the Islanders, the Capitals started clawing their way back into the game. They got under the Islanders skin and it took them off their game. Natural Stat Trick’s 5on5 game flow chart gives perhaps the best view of that.
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Don’t expect Game 5 to be any different from the Capitals. It’s still an elimination game for them. The Islanders have to rise to the occasion, don’t fall into the Capitals shenanigans, and execute their game plan from the drop of the puck to the final whistle.
If there’s a silver lining to Game 4 it’s the lesson it gave the relatively inexperienced Islanders team. It’s never over till it’s over.