There was so little difference between the Islanders and Capitals as they headed into the 71st minute of Game 4 Tuesday night, all it took was one small detail to decide it.
Like, say, another broken Islanders stick.
Latest Islanders stories
John Tavares had to drop his busted twig after blocking Alex Ovechkin's shot off a faceoff midway through overtime. Nicklas Backstrom had enough room, guarded by a stickless Tavares, to wing a wrist shot from near the blue line that skated between Johnny Boychuk and Joel Ward, then over Jaroslav Halak's shoulder and for the winner in a 2-1 Islanders loss at the Coliseum that evened their series with the Caps at 2-2.
"We've got to respond. It's playoff hockey and you're going to face a lot of adversity, mentally and physically," Tavares said. "We just need to regroup and be ready for Thursday."
Much like Sunday's Game 3, Tuesday night's game didn't feature a lot of space to operate for either side. Ovechkin scored on a deflection at 13:21 of the first, Casey Cizikas answered with 12.6 seconds left in that period.
The key was likely in the second. The Isles had three successive power plays in a 7:44 span, but produced precious little in the way of scoring chances, dropping them to 0-for-10 on the power play in the series.
"We didn't generate a whole lot," Jack Capuano said. "That was the turning point."
One of those power plays was given after Caps enforcer Tom Wilson, fresh out of the penalty box for kneeing Josh Bailey, sped up and bowled over Lubomir Visnovsky behind the Isles net with the puck several feet away. Visnovsky, who left Game 3 following a collision but returned after a few minutes, left Game 4 at 5:54 of the second and did not return.
Forced down to five defensemen and missing yet another right-side player (along with Travis Hamonic), the Isles were shuffling their remaining defenders and that took a toll.
"He's an idiot," Kyle Okposo said of Wilson. "The guy runs around, hits reckless, leaves his feet. There's no place for that."
The Islanders could not make the Caps pay in the second. The teams traded good chances in the third on Washington's lone power play, with Halak (30 saves) snaring Marcus Johansson's deflection from the door step and Cal Clutterbuck ringing a shot off the post behind Braden Holtby (36 saves) on a shorthanded rush.
Unlike Sunday, when Tavares ended overtime just 15 seconds in while everyone was still fresh, Tuesday night's overtime slogged on. Halak stopped Jason Chimera in alone eight minutes in as the longer trip to the bench in OT hurt the shorthanded Islanders defense more.
"It gets real grueling when you're down to five," Capuano said. "I give our guys credit, they battled their hearts out."
Backstrom's winner was the third Caps goal in the series out of a total of eight scored when an Islander broke his stick. "Never seen anything like it," Capuano said. "We're in good position, good D-side position. I don't know if he shoots it if Johnny has a stick."
The Islanders aren't down in the series and they're not down on themselves. They head back to Washington Wednesday trying not to let Tuesday night's small difference grow into momentum for the Caps. "I thought we outplayed them, but that doesn't always mean you're going to win," Okposo said. "We're tied up, it's best of three now and we've got to go steal one in their building again."