Throughout most of this series, the Capitals have been saying that they needed big plays from their big players. Tuesday night, they finally got them.
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the team's two top scorers during the regular season, each scored a goal as the Capitals beat the Islanders, 2-1, in overtime at Nassau Coliseum. Backstrom, who had been one of the most outspoken players regarding the production of the team's top talent in recent days, scored the game-winner 11:09 into the overtime.
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"It's huge to produce," he said after the goal that knotted the series at two games each.
Backstrom's goal came after Islanders captain John Tavares lost his stick while covering him. Tavares seemed to momentarily think about picking it up, but instead decided to play without it (a player can stay on the ice without a stick, but it's a minor penalty if he doesn't drop a broken stick quickly). Backstrom seized the opportunity, slicing a shot past a screen by teammate Joel Ward and into the net.
"I didn't know it was going to be a goal, but I saw he lost his stick there and I tried to take advantage of it," he said. "I was just trying to get the puck to the net. Good things happen when you throw it at the net, I guess."
It was the third goal of the series for Backstrom. Ovechkin, who finished the regular season with 81 points in 81 games, had been far more muted. He came into Tuesday night's game with just one goal and no assists before tipping a shot by John Carlson past Jaroslav Halak to give the Caps a 1-0 lead midway through the first.
One of the reasons the Capitals felt they were able to win the game was the Islanders' thin numbers on defense. Already playing without Travis Hamonic, the Islanders lost Lubomir Visnovsky after he took a head-rattling hit from Tom Wilson in the second period. It was the second time Visnovsky had to be helped off the ice in two games, and this time he did not return. So as the game went on, the Capitals felt they were gaining an advantage.
"They were exhausted, but we kept pushing and pushing," said Oveckhin, who also was credited with an assist on the Backstrom goal. "We were aware of that, so we wanted to put some pressure on their 'D,' " Backstrom said. "A couple of their guys had a lot of minutes."
The win created a huge swing in the series. Instead of heading home for Game 5 Thursday down 3-1, the Capitals regained home-ice advantage in what is now a best-of-three. And it came just two days after the Islanders beat the Capitals in overtime Sunday, scoring 15 seconds into the extra period.
"We knew that," Ovechkin said of the stakes. "But now, momentum is on our side."