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Islanders turn it around in 13 minutes, securing victory over Capitals

Now, Isles look to win another three

August 14, 2020 John Torenli
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It took the New York Islanders just under 13 minutes to turn certain defeat into a scintillating Game 1 victory in their playoff opener in Toronto Wednesday evening.

Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier scored in a 12:58 span bridging the second and third periods as the Isles rallied for a 4-2 victory over Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals within the fan-less confines of the NHL’s bubble site at Scotiabank Arena.

“It is nice being up 1-0 [in the series] tonight, especially after being down 2-0 [in the game],” said Isles center Mathew Barzal after assisting on Eberle’s tally with 1:03 left in the second stanza and setting up Beauvillier’s game-sealer with 9:05 to play.

“But this group knows we’re playing a pretty good hockey team so we can’t get complacent being up a game or think they aren’t going to come out flying the next game.”

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Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Friday night at 8 p.m.

The Isles spent the better part of two periods Wednesday looking like they’d never catch the Metropolitan Division-champion Capitals, who jumped out in front on a pair of power-play goals by T.J. Oshie and limited New York to a franchise playoff-low two shots in the first 20 minutes.

But a big hit by team captain Anders Lee on Caps forward Nicklas Backstrom in the second seemed to swing the momentum back in favor of the Isles, who began their scoring flurry moments later when Eberle lit the lamp before the end of the period.

“I think we just give them breath,” said Ovechkin, who finished tied for the NHL lead in goals this year with 48, but was held pointless despite six shots in Game 1.

“That goal at the end (of the second period) obviously gave them a little breath. But in the third period we can’t start like that.”

The third began with Lee’s equalizer past Washington goalie Braden Holtby before Bailey provided the go-ahead score on a nifty short-handed goal off a feed from Brock Nelson that put the Isles ahead to stay.

“Honestly we knew how the game was going, we felt like we were generating chances that just hadn’t gone in at that point,” Lee said.

“Going into the third was that same mentality,” he added. “Keep the foot on the gas and keep getting pucks to the net, but just as a group we all settled in and played a really smart period and got some phenomenal plays from Nelly, Barzy and Bails and Beau.”

Beauvillier capped the scoring midway through the period and Semyon Varlamov made the two-goal advantage stand up by finishing with 24 saves for his fifth victory in six starts since the Isles restarted their season in Toronto following a four-month layoff due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Eberle getting that one late in the second period to kind of give us a boost to go into the third 2-1 really helped,” Barzal noted. “You get that goal right at the start of the period there and it gets the motor going a bit more. It was a full team effort tonight.”

Though the Isles killed five of Washington’s seven power-play chances in Game 1, Lee knows that playing down a man against a team with one of the world’s greatest scorers which finished second in the league in goals-per-game isn’t a remedy for success going forward in the series.

“We took too many penalties tonight, unnecessary ones, a bench minor and that kind of thing,” Lee said.

“It wasn’t our intention,” Isles head coach Barry Trotz added of New York’s extended time on the penalty kill in the opener. “We’ll play five-on-five with anyone in the league I think, but I’ve seen that power play up close and they’re dangerous and you can’t let that be a part of the strategy for sure.”

Last season, New York swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the postseason before losing four straight games, including a pair at Downtown’s Barclays Center, to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Winning another three contests against Ovechkin and the Caps certainly won’t be easy, but the Isles gave themselves a significant leg up in this series by coming from behind to steal Game 1.

“It’s a good feeling being up one, but there’s a long way to go,” Barzal ceded.

Star center Mathew Barzal, left, and team captain Anders Lee know they have a long way to go before they can get past Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in Round 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs in Toronto. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

Isle Have Another: Trotz, who coached the Caps to their first and only Stanley Cup title in 2018 before landing behind the bench in Brooklyn, thought Lee’s hit on Backstrom was just part of “playoff hockey,” especially after the Isles’ captain took on Tom Wilson in a fight following the big blow. “Playoff hockey should be right up Anders’ wheelhouse, if you will,” Trotz said. “He’s big. He’s strong. He scored an important goal. He had a hit. And he responded to Wilson’s challenge. What more can you ask from a leader?” The Caps weren’t as pleased with Lee’s wallop on one of their most productive players, especially after Backstrom sat out the remainder of the game. Washington coach Todd Reirden called Lee’s game-changing hit both “late” and “predatory”. … The Isles were without veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk (head injury) for a fourth straight game since he took a high hit in Game 1 of New York’s best-of-five qualifier series against the Florida Panthers. However, Boychuk did participate in the pre-game skate Wednesday and may be available for Game 2 vs. the Caps on Friday.

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