WASHINGTON - For the first time this postseason, the Islanders were never in a game against the Washington Capitals. So now, for the first time this postseason, the Islanders' backs are against the wall.
Too many turnovers and poor decisions by the Islanders let the Capitals overrun the visitors in the Isles' 5-1 loss Thursday night. The series heads back to Nassau Coliseum Saturday with Washington holding a 3-2 lead, turning the game into a must-win and possibly the last one at the Coliseum.
"Guys making undisciplined plays with the puck," Jack Capuano said after seeing a 1-1 game after a period and a 2-1 deficit after two periods balloon to the ugly final result. "For whatever reason, the brain wasn't working well tonight."
And it was hardly the Caps' usual suspects. Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin were held scoreless in Game 5. Instead, 22-year-old Evgeny Kuznetsov scored twice and added an assist. Light-scoring defenseman Karl Alzner broke the 1-1 tie at 10:31 of the second period, scoring off a feed from Troy Brouwer after Jaroslav Halak thought he'd held the puck long enough for a whistle.
Halak was superb in the second period, stopping 17 of 18 Caps shots, but the wave of turnovers wore him down. The Caps scored three goals in a 6:18 span of the third to prompt Capuano to go to Michael Neuvirth in goal with the game out of reach.
And the Islanders lost yet another defenseman to injury, with Calvin de Haan leaving the game early in the third after a shoulder-to-shoulder hit from Brouwer.
"I guess it's a little discouraging to go with five D again," Thomas Hickey said, "but whether it was 5-1, 10-1 or 1-0, the series is 3-2 now. We're going back home, in front of our fans, and we've got to be better."
Even when Josh Bailey ripped a shot over Braden Holtby's shoulder 5:48 into the game for a quick Isles lead to silence the crowd a bit -- the goal came 26 seconds after Anders Lee fought Tom Wilson, as it was Wilson who knocked Lubomir Visnovsky from the series in Game 4 -- the Caps had too much offensive-zone time and too much puck time for it to seem as if they were going away.
Kuznetsov won a faceoff from Frans Nielsen and then batted a puck out of mid-air and past Halak at 9:05 of the first to tie the score. The Caps kept coming in the second, though the Isles' fruitless power play had a chance right after Alzner's goal. It again produced nothing, as did a meaningless late advantage, leaving the Isles 0-for-12 on the power play in the series.
"It's 2-1 going to the third, still a great chance to win the game," said John Tavares, who set up Bailey's goal but was otherwise quiet. "It starts with myself. It just wasn't a good period."
The Islanders were foiled from exacting any further revenge on Wilson or Brouwer, with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck issued misconducts in the final 10 minutes.
So the frenzied Verizon Center crowd carried on to the end and sent both teams back to Long Island with the Islanders needing to stay alive and not exactly in good health or frame of mind after losing Game 4 in overtime and stumbling here in Game 5.
"We've got great fans. It's been a great building all year," Capuano said. "We need them. As banged up as we are, we've got to find a way to get it done, just go out and play our game."