Whichever way the Capitals want to play, the Islanders are proving better at it two games into their first-round playoff series.
Mainly because the Islanders keep playing the way they want to play.
“They’re a big, strong team and they’re going to have pushes,” center Brock Nelson said. “As much as we can stay on them and play our grind game, get some offensive zone time, get possession, jam up the neutral zone, it’s going to be frustrating for anybody.”
The Islanders’ 5-2 win in Game 2 on Friday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto wasn’t the emotional, chippy battle of their 4-2 win in Wednesday’s series opener.
This time the Islanders shook off two goals from Alex Ovechkin — including one just 56 seconds into the game — won a run-and-gun segment in the second period, held the edge in the special-teams battle and then ground down the Capitals in the third period with suffocating work in the neutral zone and on the forecheck.
“We’re just trying to play the way we know how to play,” said right wing Cal Clutterbuck, who deflected in Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s shot for a 4-2 lead at 17:14 of the third period to cap a three-minute stretch in which the Capitals struggled to clear their zone. “That’s the strength of our team, getting back to that game. They’ve got a lot of different ways they can play and that’s a great team. We’re trying to control what we can control.”
Semyon Varlamov made 23 saves for the Islanders and Braden Holtby stopped 27 shots for the Capitals.
Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is Sunday at noon.
The Capitals, who went 2-for-7 on the power play in Game 1 and took a 2-0 lead midway through the second period, were limited to one man-advantage shot on two power plays in Game 2, both in the third period. Ovechkin just missed a hat trick at 10:14 as his open look from the left on a power play went off the outside of the net.
Anders Lee, who left top-line center Nicklas Backstrom concussed after a first-period check in Game 1 and fought Tom Wilson as a result, clinched it with an empty-net goal at 18:21.
The Islanders have dominated both third periods in the series. They scored three goals in the final 20 minutes on Wednesday while scoring the last four goals of Game 1.
“I like our composure as a group,” said left wing Matt Martin, who cut to the crease for a backhanded tip-in of defenseman Scott Mayfield’s precision pass from the right wall to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead at 5:01 of the second period. “That’s two games we haven’t gotten off to the best start. Once we started getting the puck behind them and playing to our identity, we started getting chances.”
The Islanders had just one shot through the game’s opening 9:08 but then held the Capitals to one shot — Lars Eller’s flip-in on Varlamov from center ice — in the final 9:03 of the first period.
The teams scored a combined four goals in a span of 3 minutes, 58 seconds in the second period, which ended with the Islanders ahead 3-2.
Defenseman Nick Leddy tied the score at 1-1 at 2:56 of the second period with a power-play shot from the left point that eluded Holtby’s glove.
Josh Bailey’s assist gave him a career-high seven postseason points and Anthony Beauvillier’s secondary assist gave him a six-game point streak to start the postseason. He became the first Islander to do so since Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy in 1981.
Ovechkin tipped Brenden Dillon’s shot to tie the score at 2-2 at 6:39, but Nelson’s breakaway regained the lead for the Islanders just 15 seconds later.
“I loved our response after they tied it up,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We got a Nelson goal, which is huge. It’s one of those momentum-changers to get it right back.”