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Islanders lose to depleted Capitals on last-minute goal

Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock collides with Washington Capitals

Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock collides with Washington Capitals left wing Conor Sheary and center Lars Eller in first period Tuesday night. Credit: AP/Nick Wass

Barry Trotz has told his Islanders this sprint of a 56-game season, played entirely within the East Division, is akin to playing 56 playoff games.

He’s not sure his team has gotten the message.

"This is playoff mentality right now," the coach said. "I’m not quite sure that we’re in our playoff mentality right now, which is really (ticking) me off."

The Islanders lost, 3-2, to the depleted Capitals on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena as defenseman Justin Schultz wristed a shot past Semyon Varlamov off a rush with 26.4 seconds left in regulation. This after the Islanders killed off a five-minute boarding major to Leo Komarov as he hit Lars Eller from behind in the offensive zone at 10:59 of the third period. The Capitals were limited to one shot on the lengthy man advantage.

"The PK did a hell of a job," right wing Jordan Eberle said. "You do expect to have some momentum coming off that PK."

"As much as we’re trying to win the game, we’re trying to get into overtime because every point is big," said Mathew Barzal, who lifted a backhander after Zdeno Chara’s turnover deep in the Capitals’ zone to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead at 10:01 of the second period. "So, just the way it happened, it was pretty heartbreaking."

The teams play again Thursday night in Washington as the Islanders have started a season-high, five-game road trip with their first back-to-back losses of the season.

"There’s a few guys that need a shakeup," Trotz said. "I need more from them. I always look at, do you have an impact in the game? How much impact do you have in your role? We’ve got some guys that don’t have a lot of impact in their roles or their games. So we’ll shake it up."

Barzal had his second multipoint effort in three games as he took a game-high six shots on Vitek Vanecek (32 saves).

Meanwhile, Brock Nelson’s second line with Josh Bailey and rookie Kieffer Bellows, elevated off the taxi squad and getting a top-six opportunity with Anthony Beauvillier (lower body) placed on injured reserve, combined for just six shots.

"We need more from our group," Trotz said. "I warned our group about the play of the Caps. They’re galvanized in terms of rallying around the guys that are out. They’re playing hard and fast and give them credit. But at the same time, I felt that it’s a missed opportunity for us."

The Capitals were without Alex Ovechkin, No. 1 goalie Ilya Samsonov, top-six center Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenseman Dmitry Orlov, all on the NHL’s COVID-protocol list. That quartet will also miss Thursday night’s game.

The Capitals were also without top-six right wing Tom Wilson, out with a lower-body injury. And a shaken Nicklas Backstrom followed Eller to the Capitals’ locker room late in the third period, leaving them with just two centers.

It was the first meeting between the teams since the Islanders eliminated the Capitals in a five-game, first-round series played in the Toronto bubble in August.

Capitals’ fourth-liner Daniel Sprong tied it at 2 at 17:21 of the second period with a quick shot from the slot that beat Varlamov over his blocker.

The Capitals had taken a 1-0 lead at 11:06 of the first period on John Carlson’s power-play goal after Varlamov (33 saves) could not glove Schultz’s initial shot. But Noah Dobson tied it at 1 at 15:33 of the first period with a screened shot from the right point. It was the first goal scored by an Islanders defenseman this season.

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