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Islanders' penalty-killers come up big

Nick Leddy of the Islanders is congratulated by

Nick Leddy of the Islanders is congratulated by his teammate, Anthony Beauvillier after scoring a goal against the Capitals during the second period in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on Friday in Toronto. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

In every playoff series special teams are key. And the Islanders knew they had played with fire when they’d given the Washington Capitals seven power play opportunities in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Wednesday. They were determined to be better in Game 2 on Friday.

“There seems to be a lot of penalties being called throughout the playoffs, at least in our games,’’ forward Jordan Eberle said before Friday’s game. “Those are huge factors, to be able to win the special teams.’’

The Islanders won Game 2, 5-2, to take a 2-0  lead in the best-of-seven series. And  as Eberle said, special teams were  a huge factor. The Islanders were much more disciplined Friday than they had been in Game 1, giving Washington just two power plays. And the power play —  though it wasn’t great —  got in on the act, too, producing the Islanders’ first power play goal of series, by defenseman Nick Leddy, in five chances.

The power play was a weapon in the qualifying series against Florida, scoring four goals in 16 attempts for a healthy 25% success rate. But in the very physical Game 1 against the Capitals, the Isles were 0-for-4 with the man advantage, and rarely threatened.

“You know, the power play, it’s a funny thing: You can score two times out of 10 and that’s a good power play,’’ Eberle said. “But the other eight times, you have to find a way to create momentum, and keep it. That’s the biggest thing, you don’t want to lose it.’’

The Isles didn’t create much momentum with their four power plays on Friday, though. They were so weak on their two power plays in the opening period that coach Barry Trotz changed things up by starting his second power-play unit, only with Leddy at the point instead of Devon Toews. It paid off when Leddy hammered home a low slapshot through traffic that banked in off the post. That tied the score at 1.

At that point, it seemed like the power play would turn the corner and begin generating more chances against Washington goaltender Braden Holtby. But the Isles got two more power plays in the second period and came up empty on both. They managed just four shots on goal in their five tries with the man advantage, and for the series they are just 1-for-9.

But of course they twice found a way to win and now have a commanding series lead. Friday they won because the underwhelming power play was bailed out by, of all things, the penalty kill. In the third period, with the Isles clinging to a slim, one-goal lead, the Capitals got their only two power plays of the game. But in four minutes of power play time, Washington managed just one shot on goal, and the Caps, who got two man advantage goals in Game 1, got nothing this time. The Isles survived, and got two late goals to put the game away.

New York Sports