The Islanders knew it was coming. Everyone in hockey knew it was coming. It is not normal for Alex Ovechkin to go four consecutive games without a point, let alone four consecutive seeding/playoff games without one.
Sure enough, there it was in Toronto on Friday night: an Ovi sighting, less than a minute into Game 2 of the first-round series between the Islanders and Capitals.
The question for the Islanders was whether it would spell trouble or provide another reason to feel good about their situation.
It was the latter.
The Islanders absorbed not one but two goals from Ovechkin — not to mention a shocking miss on an open net during a third-period power play — and secured a 5-2 victory to take a 2-0 series lead.
“Obviously, he might be the best goal-scorer of all time, so he’s going to get his looks,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “I think we’re just trying to make it difficult on him.
“The first one was a tough bounce, obviously. But then he’s got the talent to put that one away. So I think we’re just going to try and make it hard on him and do what you can to limit him. He’s a good player.”
That tough bounce Clutterbuck referenced was a fluky one off the Zamboni door that allowed Ovechkin to gather the puck in front of Casey Cizikas, storm toward the net and flip a backhand shot past Semyon Varlamov 56 seconds into the game.
It was a shot that Varlamov should have stopped. But again, you can’t stop them all from Ovi.
“We’ve got a good, mature group that doesn’t get fazed,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “Obviously, they got a goal early off a little bit of a bad carom off the boards, and it didn’t faze our bench.”
But the early score did seem to put a charge into the 34-year-old Russian, who seemed more active than in Game 1.
On the MSG+ telecast, analyst Butch Goring said, “They’ve got to play a much tougher game against him or he’s going to terrorize them today.”
The Islanders avoided that, thanks in part to clever mixing and matching of defensive pairs.
Ovechkin’s 67th career playoff goal and second of the night came on a tip-in in front of the net in the second period that tied the score at 2. But just as they did after the first goal, the Islanders quickly recovered.
Brock Nelson scored on a breakaway 15 seconds after Ovechkin’s second score, and the Islanders led for good.
But that was not the end of Ovi drama. Midway through the third period, he had a chance at a wide-open left side of the net as he came across his familiar power-play spot in the left circle, but his shot fluttered harmlessly left of the net.
Asked later about the miss, he said, “[Expletive] happens.”
Before the series began, the Islanders were open about the challenge Ovechkin presents.
Trotz, who used to coach Ovechkin with the Capitals, said earlier this week, “Ovi is special. He’s going to go down as maybe the greatest pure goal-scorer of all time . . . He’s big, he’s physical, he’s strong as an ox.”
Defenseman Adam Pelech said earlier in the week that limiting Ovechkin, especially on the power play, would be a key to the series.
It still is. Ovechkin remains a threat. And when the Islanders talked after the game about challenges ahead, they were not just saying what teams with 2-0 leads are supposed to say.
It’s true. Ovechkin’s 48 goals tied for the league lead in the regular season. He could have and should have had a hat trick on Friday.
But for one night, at least, the Islanders proved that he was a force they could overcome.