The effects of Islanders captain Anders Lee’s hit on the Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom are likely to linger for the length of the teams’ first-round playoff series.
Capitals coach Todd Reirden announced his No. 1 center is in concussion protocol and unavailable for Friday night’s Game 2 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto after absorbing a blue-line check from Lee early in the first period of the Islanders’ 4-2 Game 1 win on Wednesday.
“Both teams have a lot of will and determination and the ability to be physical,” Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck said after practice on Thursday. “I think we’re both going to try and wear each other down. Good, I love it. Let’s go.”
The Capitals, not surprisingly, did not like Lee’s hit on an unsuspecting Backstrom, with Reirden calling it a “predatory” play after Game 1. The NHL Player Safety Department reviewed the sequence and took no action against Lee.
“No, not really,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said when asked if he had any reaction to Reirden’s comment. “Player Safety looks at it, they’ve got good hockey people. Todd was doing what you’d expect a coach to do: defend his players. I don’t have any reaction at all.”
Lee was not among the players the Islanders made available for interviews via Zoom on Thursday, though he did address the play after Game 1.
“It’s a hit,” Clutterbuck said. “It happens in the course of a hockey game, especially a playoff hockey game. Player Safety looks at that. We’re going to focus on Game 2.”
Lars Eller, who missed Game 1 as he completed his quarantine after leaving the Toronto bubble to attend the birth of his child, will enter the Capitals’ lineup for Backstrom.
Both teams have aspects of their game they want to improve on Friday night.
For the Islanders, it’s playing more five-on-five and improving on the penalty kill after the Capitals’ power play went 2-for-7 in Game 1. The Capitals managed just 12 shots playing five-on-five and were outscored, 3-0, at even strength.
One of T.J. Oshie’s two second-period power-play goals was somewhat fluky, with Evgeny Kuznetsov’s initial shot hitting off defenseman Adam Pelech and rebounding off the backboards directly to the open Oshie. But defenseman Scott Mayfield said Oshie’s second goal, as he muscled to the crease and pushed the puck between goalie Semyon Varlamov’s pads, was preventable.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re tying up sticks,” Mayfield said. “I lost Oshie. They were fluky goals but, at the same time, 2-for-7, that’s not good enough.”
The Capitals are looking for a more complete, 60-minute effort after building a 2-0 lead through 11:18 of the second period and using their forecheck to draw the Islanders into penalties.
Alex Ovechkin also has yet to notch a point in four games since the Capitals’ season resumed.
And there’s no doubt the Capitals will still be angry over Lee’s hit on Backstrom.
“I think it’s definitely fuel for the fire, in a way,” said Capitals right wing Tom Wilson, who fought Lee at 17:13 of the first period after challenging him and had visible red welts on his knuckles during his Zoom interview. “Obviously, we didn’t like the hit. Nicky is our star player. He’s a leader for us and you never want to see a guy go down, especially a guy like that. We’re going to do our best to play for him and step in.”
And if the Capitals try to step up even more against the Islanders?
“Whatever happens, we’re well equipped,” Trotz said. “If they want to play physical, we’ll play physical. It’s not a problem.”