The Islanders want to get back to playing the Islanders’ way.
The Capitals believe they’re finally playing the Capitals’ way.
Both know imposing their style will be the winning way in Thursday night's Game 5 of their best-of-seven, first-round series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Both are variations on the same theme: Outwork the opponent, possess the puck by creating an effective forecheck and get good goaltending behind a solid defensive structure.
The Islanders did so for the first three games of the series before the Capitals staved off elimination by rallying for a 3-2 win in Tuesday night’s Game 4.
“It’s not really about focusing on them,” Islanders left wing Anthony Beauvillier said on Wednesday, an off day for both teams. “If we do the right things and play the Islanders’ way, make it hard on them just like we play when we have success, that’s the thing we have to focus on. It’s about us. It’s not about them.”
“We had to match the work ethic of the New York Islanders,” said Capitals coach Todd Reirden, who effectively sparked his team after it fell behind 2-0 at 9:16 of the first period in Game 4 by calling his timeout and loudly calling out his team’s effort to that point. “Because we were able to spend more time in the offensive zone, now we were able to get more to our game and get to our blueprint of how you can fatigue another team and eventually break them. Now, it’s on us to continue to build on what we accomplished in Game 4.”
The Capitals are attempting to become just the fifth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit.
Both teams want to improve on certain areas in Game 5.
For the Islanders, it’s the 1-for-19 power play, even though the puck movement was better in Game 4 as they took 12 man-advantage shots. Still, they went 0-for-5 in the game. And the defensive effort needs to be tightened after the Capitals were able to spend long stretches in the offensive zone while putting more traffic on goalie Semyon Varlamov.
“They’re coming hard to the net, that’s for sure,” said Varlamov, who has allowed only three five-on-five goals in the series. “As a goalie, it’s so much harder to play with traffic at the net, every team knows that. As a goalie, you try to battle through and find the puck better. Washington is doing the same thing as other teams are doing, trying to make it tough on the goalies.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he was contemplating lineup changes for Game 5 — he has dressed the same lineup for a season-high five straight games — even if fourth-line right wing Cal Clutterbuck is available after being knocked out of Game 4 on a low hit from defenseman Radko Gudas at 15:25 of the second period.
In addition to more scoring five-on-five, the Capitals could also benefit from more secondary scoring. All eight of their goals in the series have been scored by either Alex Ovechkin, who had his second two-goal performance of the series in Game 4, Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had a power-play goal in the Islanders’ 2-1 win in Game 3 and a four-on-four goal in Game 4, or T.J. Oshie, who had two power-play goals in the Islanders’ 4-2 win in Game 1.
“They’re going to make adjustments, we made some adjustments in the series,” Trotz said. “The playoffs is all about adjustments, those moments and how you react. I don’t think we reacted well [in Game 4]. We didn’t have enough push to beat a desperate team.”