Isles look to regroup after Game 4 loss
Squander two-goal lead to miss sweep opportunity
It just felt like it might be after the first period of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in Toronto on Tuesday night.
But Ovechkin and the resilient Caps rallied from an early two-goal deficit to pull out a season-saving 3-2 victory at the NHL’s bubble site within the fanless confines of Scotiabank Arena, forcing the Isles to play Game 5 on Thursday.
“We talked about this being the toughest game to win and that was no different tonight,” New York captain Anders Lee said after the Isles fell just shy of sweeping their first-round opponent for a second straight year.
Trade deadline acquisition Jean-Gabriel Pageau opened the scoring for New York at 3:50 of the opening period before Mathew Barzal, who scored the Game 3 overtime winner Sunday, followed with a tally to make it 2-0 less than 10 minutes into the first stanza.
But the Caps, who were outshot by a staggering 16-1 at one point early in the first period, refused to go quietly.
Evgeny Kutzenov shaved the Isles’ lead in half at 3:35 of the second period and Ovechkin’s power-play goal less than two minutes later knotted the contest.
“I started to see it in the second half of the first period,” Caps head coach Todd Rierden said of his team’s comeback. “We started to impose our will a little bit and tilt the ice in our favor by getting some offensive zone shifts. That’s mandatory for us to have success as a team.”
Ovechkin, who tied for the league lead with 48 goals this season, put Washington in front for good with his fourth goal of the series at 3:40 of the third period.
New York was unable to answer, putting the onus on the Isles to snap back into elimination mode Thursday.
“We’ve just got to regroup and go back at it. It’s a difficult thing to close out a team,” Lee noted.
“We put ourselves in a phenomenal position with [winning] the first three games and now, we have to take advantage of it. All of these series are tough series. There’s a lot of pride on both ends. You expect it to be tough.”
It might get even tougher if Ovechkin, arguably the best player of his generation, continues to roll.
“Their top players were their top players tonight,” said Isles head coach Barry Trotz, who led Washington to its lone Stanley Cup crown two years ago before relocating to the Brooklyn/Long Island-based franchise.
Semyon Varlamov made 26 saves for the Isles and appeared on the verge of his seventh win in eight starts since the NHL’s restart before Ovechkin and his teammates caught fire.
“We didn’t have enough push back, but we got through that period. It was 2-0 and we got the timely saves by Varly,” Trotz added.
“The second period, we got a power play to start, but then we took unnecessary penalties. That gave them some momentum. They got back on track and then, it was a one-shot game after that.”
Braden Holtby stopped 24 shots for Washington, helping the Caps overcome New York’s fierce first-period assault until their offense began to click.
“Any comeback is exciting but I think it’s more the way we played in the second and third periods,” Holtby said after Washington averted its second straight first-round ouster since lifting Lord Stanley’s coveted cup in 2018.
“I think that’s the key to our ability to come back and win the series,” he added. “If we play every period like that its going to be really, really hard to beat us. … Our job now is to make sure that filters over in the next game.”
And the Isles’ job is to make sure it doesn’t.
“We didn’t play our best game,” Isles veteran defenseman Nick Leddy said.
“We gave them life at certain times of the game and they took that momentum and ran. You’ve got to give them credit. At the end of the day, we know we have a lot better.”
The league has yet to announce an official start time for Thursday’s Game 5.
Game 6, if necessary, will be played on Saturday.
In other local pro sports news, the injury-depleted New York Liberty suffered their fifth straight loss Tuesday, enduring a 105-64 drubbing at the hands of the Seattle Storm at the WNBA’s bubble site in Bradenton, Florida.
Kia Nurse scored 21 points for New York, which dropped to 1-10 during this abbreviated 22-game campaign, which was originally supposed to feature the Liberty playing all of their home games at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
New York has been without top overall draft pick Sabrina Ionescu since the second quarter of an 84-78 loss to the Atlanta Dream on July 31.
Ionescu, tabbed as a potential transformational player for both the Liberty and the league as a whole, injured her left ankle in that contest and is highly unlikely to return to the team before the end of her rookie campaign.
New York will be back in action Thursday night against the Chicago Sky.
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