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Islanders beat Capitals to force Game 7

The New York Islanders celebrate after defeating the

The New York Islanders celebrate after defeating the Washington Capitals in game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Apr. 25, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Don't close those Coliseum doors just yet. The Islanders still might need their building.

With two defensemen making their playoff debuts and another shuffle up front, the Islanders found the right level of desperation to pull out a 3-1 win over the Capitals in Game 6 Saturday at the venerable and vulnerable Nassau Coliseum.

That forces a Game 7 Monday night in Washington. The Coliseum might not see another hockey game, but the Islanders at least did their part not to leave the old building on a sour note.

"The fans were rocking the place," said Brian Strait, who went from being the seventh defenseman on the roster much of the season to the second pair in the Islanders' biggest game of the season. "We just wanted to make sure we gave ourselves a chance to keep it going."

John Tavares put the Islanders ahead 6:56 into the game, jumping on a loose puck after Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik stepped up to hit Ryan Strome. He snapped a shot past Braden Holtby.

The Caps tied it with 4.3 seconds left in the first period on John Carlson's goal, converting the third Washington power play of the opening period -- this one with Tavares in the box for a questionable slashing call.

The game stayed 1-1 into the third period and Tavares was in the middle of the eventual winner, though not in the way you'd think.

Tavares rushed over the Caps' blue line a little past the halfway mark of the third. Alex Ovechkin delivered a rodeo-lasso slash on Tavares, then hit the Islanders' captain hard into the end boards. Neither play drew a penalty, which made the Coliseum crowd irate but turned out to be to the Isles' benefit.

As Tavares lay on the ice, with Ovechkin and Karl Alzner around him, Nick Leddy grabbed the loose puck and fed Nikolay Kulemin, who was by his lonesome in front of the net. Kulemin deked around Holtby and deposited the winner with 9:27 to go.

"I got hit, the puck bounced to Nick, he made a great play. I didn't know we scored 'til I saw everyone going crazy," Tavares said. "I got hit, it kind of shook me up a bit, but I was all right, just trying to gather myself."

The Islanders weathered a small Caps surge after that, going mostly with four defensemen. Matt Donovan, who was a healthy scratch the first five games of the series and all but 12 games in the regular season, paired with rookie Scott Mayfield, who played in five NHL games at the end of the 2013-14 season. Those two did not play major minutes but added to the strong effort in front of Jaroslav Halak, who made 38 saves.

"The lineup was a little different from it's been, but sometimes that's a good thing,'' said Cal Clutterbuck, who scored into an empty net with 52.4 seconds left, sealing the game and sending the crowd into a further frenzy. "It brought a little bit of fresh air to the lineup and those guys played great."

The Islanders can keep the Coliseum open for hockey only by winning Monday night in Washington. If they can do that, they will face the Rangers in the second round. Game 3 would be the first one they could host.

On the other hand, if they lose Monday night, then the Coliseum went out with a bang.

Many of them, actually.

The Islanders matched the physical Caps hit for hit while still playing a strong forechecking style, keeping the play away from their own end better than they had in the Capitals' 5-1 Game 5 rout.

"They didn't get that extended zone time they've had at times over the series," said Thomas Hickey, who paired with Strait and played a strong game. "We've been a really good team for long stretches this year and we got right back to that. It was great in this atmosphere."

And now it might not come to an end for a while.

New York Sports