UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Washington Capitals played the game the way they want it to be played. On Tuesday, it was a recipe for success.
Nicklas Backstrom scored the winning goal 11:09 into overtime, and the Capitals defeated the New York Islanders, 2-1, in Game 4 of the teams’ first-round playoff series on Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum.
With the victory, the Capitals have knotted the series at two games apiece, meaning they’ll return to New York on Saturday.
“I thought we were feeling it,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We could have played for a long time tonight. It was real good. A lot of strength in our bench. If it would have gone a lot longer, I thought we would have been really good. Our mind was in a good place tonight.”
It was the fourth time in four games between the teams in the building that the game pushed past the third period. The Islanders took both games during the regular season, then claimed a 2-1 victory after just 15 seconds in Game 3 on Sunday.
This one went a bit longer. Backstrom won the faceoff against the Islanders’ John Tavares, who scored the winning goal two games earlier and broke his stick on the draw. Alex Ovechkin took an immediate shot that was deflected into the right corner, where Backstrom and Tavares went to go fetch it.
Tavares, though, realized his stick was in disrepair and discarded it, with Backstrom drifting toward the blue line before uncorking a wrister. With Joel Ward and Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk in front of Jaroslav Halak, the goaltender never saw the puck, which sailed between Ward’s legs and into the far side of the net.
“I didn’t know it was going to be a goal, but I saw he lost the stick there and I was trying to take advantage of it,” said Backstrom, who now has three goals in the four games after failing to score in the final 23 games of the regular season. “Just trying to get puck to net. Good screen by Wardo. Good things happen when you go at net, I guess.”
The Capitals have historically been average in Game 4 when trailing in the series, but the outcome of the game has had significant consequences on their playoff journey. In the 13 occasions on which Washington has faced a 2-1 deficit, they’ve lost the fourth game seven times — and only once have they rebounded to win the final three games to take the series.
The implications on Tuesday, then, were clear to the Capitals, who exuded a general confidence in their ability to prolong the series during the morning skate. That assurance carried into the game, where the Capitals again fought off an oppressive early effort by New York to score the first goal of the game for the first time in the series.
It was a simple formula, not too dissimilar from the overtime winner. At 13:06 of the first period, Backstrom won a draw in the offensive zone and sent the puck to John Carlson, who unleashed a slap shot that careened off Ovechkin’s stick. Halak, again, never saw the puck, with Ward standing in his way.
“That’s the key to any goalie,” Carlson said. “Take away his eyes, get to him, shake him up a little bit and make it harder for him. I think that’s a recipe for any goalie, really.”
The Islander answered with just 12.6 seconds remaining until the first intermission, spoiling the Capitals’ first 1-0 lead of the series. Cal Clutterbuck pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone and skated through center ice, flicking a wrister at Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby that was cleaned up and deposited by Cizikas.
Washington weathered the storm in the second period, killing off three power plays — two on penalties assessed to Tom Wilson — with relative efficiency. That seven-minute sequence was a confidence-builder for the Capitals, who have now turned away all 10 of New York’s power play opportunities during the series.
The Capitals were outshot, 34-23, by the end of regulation, but took advantage in the extra time. With Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky out after taking a massive hit from Wilson on the end boards early in the second period, they were worn down, and the Capitals fed off their weakness.
They had 13 shot attempts in the extra period, and had the 7-4 advantage in shots on goal. Backstrom’s, of course, was the last, and as he celebrated with his teammates at center ice, the rancor of a crowd so worked up all night suddenly drew silent.
“It usually gets quiet when the road team wins,” Backstrom said.