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Islanders fall in shootout to Capitals, who go atop East Division standings

Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) and New

Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) and New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) look into the net after Kuznesov scored in the shootout of an NHL hockey game,Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Capitals won 1-0.  Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

The standings said it was a battle for first place in the East Division between two teams tied for that distinction with 10 games remaining, and it was an entertaining game that lived up to that billing.

After three goalless periods and overtime, the Capitals defeated the Islanders in a shootout on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring in the third round to give Washington a 2-1 decision.

But the biggest implication of the game — and the two more between the teams in the coming days — might be what it means to playoff seedings to come, and how crucial home ice could be.

That is because the Islanders have been a powerhouse at home all season, defying logic in a COVID-19-shaped season with limited travel and limited capacity for on-site fans.

 

They now are 19-2-3 at the Coliseum — a league-best 41 points at home — and 10-11-2 on the road. That makes seeding position extra-important in the tightly packed East standings.

How tight? By losing Thursday’s shootout, the Islanders tumbled to third place because of a tiebreaker with the Penguins, who now are even with the Islanders with 63 points, one behind Washington.

That means that if the playoffs started now, the Islanders would not have home ice against Pittsburgh in the first round, and they would not have it in the second round if they and the Capitals advanced.

Hence the value and intensity of these contests, with the Capitals on the schedule again at the Coliseum on Saturday and in Washington on Tuesday.

"I feel like any time you play the Washington Capitals, especially us, it’s a playoff game," Nick Leddy said. "They’re fun games to be a part of. They’re exciting."

Said Anthony Beauvillier, "It just comes down to playoff hockey, and that’s what we saw tonight."

Both goalies were excellent, with the Islanders’ Semyon Varlamov making 28 saves for his fifth shutout of the season and the Capitals’ Ilya Samsonov making 26 stops.

"He probably played the best game this year; I have to give him credit," Varlamov said of Samsonov.

Varlamov said the shutout is nice for his stats, but he did not want it under these circumstances.

"I’d rather win 2-1 or 6-5 than a loss like that, because it’s all about winning for me for this team," he said.

The Islanders had allowed six goals in their previous 12 man-down situations to the Capitals entering the night but were 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.

But when they finally had two power play chances of their own in the third period, they did little with them.

The Islanders (29-13-5) dominated possession during the overtime period but could not break through against Samsonov and the Capitals (30-13-4).

Beauvillier gave the Islanders a lead in the second round of the shootout, but Niklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov then scored for Washington to end it.

What is the reason for the Islanders’ home-ice success this season?

"I think everyone in the locker room likes playing at the Coli," Michael Dal Colle said before the game. "There’s so much history there, and ever since I came in my first stint [in 2018], we’ve just seemed to play really well in that building.

"So it’s carried over to this year, and like I said everyone enjoys playing there and we seem to play really well. Hopefully, we can keep that trend going."

Kyle Palmieri, a longtime Coliseum visitor until being acquired in a trade with the Devils earlier this month, said, "It’s incredible. Obviously, a record like that speaks for itself.

"I think playing here as a visiting team, I always had an appreciation for the atmosphere at the Coliseum, and now being here as part of the Islanders, it’s been incredible."

The Islanders will get another chance to prove how much the Old Barn means to them on Saturday. Every point counts.

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