Islanders captain Anders Lee took a penalty for his first-period hit on Nicklas Backstrom, and yes, giving an early power play to the Washington Capitals in the opening game of the teams’ first-round playoff series normally wouldn’t seem like a great idea.
But Lee’s hit, barely two-and-a-half minutes into the game, accomplished two things: First, it established that the Islanders were going to be physical, which they were all game. Second, Backstrom, the Capitals’ second-line center, left the game after the first period, and his status for Game 2 Friday is uncertain.
Then, to top it off, Lee scored his second career playoff goal, tying the game early in the third period as the Islanders rallied from a two-goal deficit and beat the Capitals, 4-2, to take Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.
“Yeah, we know it's going to be a physical game, a physical night, and, you know, a physical series,’’ Lee said when asked if his hit on Backstrom set the tone for the game. “My intentions were to try to throw the brakes on a little bit there but (I) caught him. And the end result after that, penalty and a couple fights. So it was settled. And then the game continued on.’’
The Capitals were incensed by Lee’s hit, as Backstrom didn’t have the puck, and apparently didn’t see Lee coming. The 6-3, 231-pound Lee didn’t appear to hit Backstrom as hard as he could, but Backstrom fell to the ice, then left the game and did not return. Washington coach Todd Reirden called the hit “predatory.’’
“It was a late hit on an unexpecting player that was in a spot (where) he was extremely vulnerable,’’ Reirden said. “It’s as simple as that. Like I said, late hit, the player wasn’t expecting it, and it’s predatory.”
Lee was immediately challenged to a fight by Washington’s John Carlson after the hit.
“I didn't see a replay of it, but it looked real dirty to me,’’ said Carlson, not known as a fighter.
Lee handled Carlson, and both players got roughing minors, with the Caps getting their first of seven power plays. Later in the period, Lee had to fight again, this time against Washington heavyweight Tom Wilson. And he took a beating in that one.
But Josh Bailey, who would score the game-winning, shorthanded goal, said the fight helped the Islanders.
“It was great,’’ Bailey said. “I think it's a big moment in a game. That's playoff hockey. Wilson's obviously a really good player, and he plays hard, and he's tough. And ‘Leezy’ stepped up. And then… obviously, a huge goal for him in the third. He definitely earned it tonight. He was our first star.’’
Islanders coach Barry Trotz, the former Capitals coach, defended Lee for the hit, and praised his effort.
“Playoff hockey should be right up Anders' wheelhouse, if you will,’’ Trotz said of Lee’s performance. “He's big; he's strong; he's scored an important goal. He had a hit, he responded to (Tom) Wilson's challenge. I mean, what else see can you ask from a from a leader?’’
The Islanders fell behind, 2-0, on a pair of power play goals in the second period by T.J. Oshie, but Jordan Eberle’s goal with 1:03 left in the period got the Islanders on the board, and then Lee banged in the rebound of a Ryan Pulock shot 51 seconds into the third period to tie the score, 2-2. Bailey’s goal, while the Isles were killing a penalty to Leo Komarov, gave the Isles the lead at 6:52 of the third. Anthony Beauvillier scored to make it 4-2 at 11:55.