The Capitals, trailing by three goals, raised their level of play significantly in the third period Saturday afternoon. The Islanders didn’t come close to matching it. Perhaps that shows the true gap between the two Metropolitan Division teams.
“You’ve got to weather the storm at times, but we kind of let them dictate the play,” Josh Bailey said after Washington scored five unanswered goals in the period for a 6-4 win at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. “We’ve just got to find a way to be better in that situation and have faith. We’ve been in that situation many times before and we’ve just got to stay true to our game and keep working.”
Instead, the third-place Islanders imploded at the worst time against the first-place Capitals.
Bailey’s soft attempt at a defensive-zone clear led to Jakub Vrana’s tiebreaking goal at 17:30 of the third period.
Alex Ovechkin, with his 26th career hat trick and second in two games, completed the scoring with an empty-netter with 56.0 seconds left. That tied him with Steve Yzerman for ninth place on the NHL’s all-time list with 692 career goals.
“There’s a level that we have to raise when the game is on the line and we didn’t raise it,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup in 2018. “You have to make hard plays. We talked about that because they were going to come. We were making soft plays.”
The Islanders (28-15-4) lost two of three on this three-game homestand, beating only the NHL-worst Red Wings, and are 1-3-1 to start a stretch of seven games in 11 days. They are at Carolina on Sunday, and the fourth-place Hurricanes are only three points behind them.
“We just couldn’t hold the lead,” Leo Komarov said. “We have to step it up, too. We just can’t keep playing the same way. We have to push it up a little. It’s going to sting for a while, but it’s a good thing we’ve got a quick turnaround and get right back at it.”
“It’s no way we should be losing,” Matt Martin added. “Three goals squandered in the third period. It’s really unacceptable. This one stinks.”
Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov made 24 saves, but the Capitals (33-11-5) scored on five of their 11 third-period shots. Counterpart Braden Holtby gave up four goals on 23 shots through the first two periods before Ilya Samsonov relieved him and stopped all seven shots he faced in the third period.
The Islanders’ two-goal second was one of their stronger periods this season as Jordan Eberle’s power-play goal made it 3-1 at 9:31 and defenseman Devon Toews completed a give-and-go with Komarov to extend the lead to 4-1 at 17:25.
But Carl Hagelin got to the crease to bring the Capitals within 4-2 at 2:33 of the third period. Ovechkin, dragging the puck around defenseman Scott Mayfield and banking it in off defenseman Ryan Pulock, made it 4-3 at 5:18.
Trotz used his timeout and the Islanders seemed to settle down.
But only briefly.
“We win the last 14 minutes, we win the game,” Anders Lee said. “We settled in for another five minutes, then it gets tied up. There’s not much to say. It’s frustrating.”
Tom Wilson deflected in defenseman Dmitry Orlov’s shot from the left point for the equalizer at 14:32.
Ovechkin’s breakaway opened the scoring at 10:22 of the first period, but Brock Nelson tied it at 13:11 and Casey Cizikas, whose attempted feed to Derick Brassard at the crease banked in off Capitals defenseman Radko Gudas, gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead at 15:49.