New York Islanders' Mathew Barzal celebrates with teammates after scoring a...

New York Islanders' Mathew Barzal celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the third period against the Washington Capitals on April 1, 2021. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

The Islanders’ wide-open, 8-4 win was not the game either they or the Capitals expected to play.

But it was great entertainment, especially a wacky first period with six combined goals and two goalie switches for the Capitals.

"These games are fun because you’ve got two good teams, two intense teams," said Islanders coach Barry Trotz, whose team will face the Capitals four more times this month. "There’s only one stat that really matters to a coach at the end of the day: Did you win or lose? We won tonight as a team."

Mathew Barzal had his third career hat trick with two spectacular goals and Jordan Eberle added two goals as the Islanders matched the Capitals and Penguins atop the East Division with 50 points (Washington has a game in hand on the other two teams). They set a season high for goals before a sellout crowd of 1,400 at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders (23-10-7) opened a six-game homestand after dropping two games in Pittsburgh. It was their first win in four tries against the Capitals.

"The importance of the game was huge," said Eberle, who tied the score at 1 off Leo Komarov’s superb feed at 5:02 of the first period and took Barzal’s pass for a 6-3 lead at 8:08 of the second period. "Dropping two in Pittsburgh and still on the heels of these guys. We knew we needed to win. I didn’t expect it to be this type of game, but they’ve got a lot of firepower over there."

The rollicking first period took little time to go full-out bizarre.

Just 30 seconds in, Capitals starting goalie Ilya Samsonov (18 saves) was forced into concussion protocol after teammate T.J. Oshie caught him high with his left shoulder as he skated behind the crease. Vitek Vanecek came in and allowed two goals on nine shots before Samsonov returned at 16:56.

The Capitals took a 1-0 lead at 1:01 on their first shot, a one-timer by defenseman John Carlson that sailed past Semyon Varlamov (18 saves). It marked the fifth straight game the Islanders have yielded the first goal.

"You don’t want to dig a hole early," said Brock Nelson, who pushed the Islanders’ lead to 3-1 at 17:32 of the first period. "Today was a little strange; their goalie gets knocked out by their own guy. I thought we did a good job of getting back on the attack."

After Barzal assisted on Eberle’s score, he had the first of his jaw-dropping goals, skating the puck end-to-end and past, in order, Tom Wilson, Zdeno Chara and Nick Jensen before lifting a wrist shot from the right circle past Vanecek to make it 2-1 at 16:09.

"Aside from my three and with Ebs’ two, we were just playing good hockey all night," Barzal, who matched a career high with five points, said of his line. "I think we probably could have had even two or three more. It just seemed like every time we got the puck, we were making clean breakouts and clean rushes and just finding each other."

Barzal’s jaw-dropping goal No. 2 came when he spun and shot with just his right arm on the stick from a sharp angle on the left at 18:53 of the first period. That made it 4-2.

He completed his hat trick with the game’s final goal at 18:54 of the third, batting the puck in out of the air in close.

"He’s a special talent, there’s no question about it," said Josh Bailey, who made it 7-4 at 3:13 of the third period. "It’s great to see him get rewarded. I really feel like the last few games he’s really been buzzing out there. He earned it tonight."

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