WASHINGTON - For the third straight game this series, a 20-goal scorer was in street clothes for the Islanders. That they closed the series with only one goal on 11 shots in Monday night's 2-1 loss to the Capitals in Game 7 surely will prompt some second-guessing.
Anders Lee and Brock Nelson played enormous roles in the Islanders' success this season, scoring 25 and 20 goals, respectively. Nelson even had a pair in the 4-1 Game 1 win, seemingly carrying over the best of his play during the season.
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But the two good friends haven't been in the lineup together since Game 4. Nelson sat out Game 5 as a healthy scratch and Lee sat Game 6 and again Monday night, the most important Islanders game in years.
"I don't think anyone's happy with being sat, especially this time of year," Nelson said. "You try not to be down, but it's hard. This is the best time of year to play."
The Islanders' reliance on first- and second-year talents such as Nelson, Lee and Ryan Strome paid dividends during the season. Nelson had 15 goals in his first 29 games, Lee was third among rookies in goals and Strome ended up third on the team with 50 points.
But the playoffs are a different time and the intensity of the games seemed to catch Nelson and Lee off guard as the series progressed. Neither had a point after Game 1 and both were part of the 0-for-14 power play that doomed the Isles in Game 7 and the entire series.
"He's healthy," Capuano said of Lee. "It was extremely hard. We're coming off one of our better games [in Game 6]. That was one of the toughest decisions we had to make."
Nelson and Strome both were on for the Caps' winning goal in the third period Monday night. Neither had an impact, though they were far from alone among the Islanders' forwards, who had only three of their 11 shots on goal.
"Sometimes you have to go with the guys who have that experience," Capuano said.