September 21, 2019

Washington Capitals Game 2 Recap: Caps score twice in third, shock Islanders

Down 3-1, and having given up a critical goal shortly after tallying their much-needed first, the Washington Capitals were in very dire straits and at risk of falling behind the New York Islanders two games to none in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Spurred on by their fans as well as improved puck control, they ensured that talk of a potential sweep would be just that – talk.

A spirited final 30 minutes of hockey, in which Washington scored three unanswered goals in a space of 11 minutes and 28 seconds (spanning two periods), lifted Washington to a 4-3 win in Game 2 of their best-of-seven series against the Islanders in front of a raucous crowd Friday night at Verizon Center.

After an uncertainty-filled morning with no sign of Caps goalie Braden Holtby, Caps head coach Barry Trotz gave Philipp Grubauer the call between the pipes. According to the team, Holtby has an unspecified illness and rested for most of the day.

Cal Clutterbuck gave New York a 1-0 lead at the 5:14 mark, beating both Mike Green and Grubauer to open the scoring from the left slot. Ryan Strome made it 2-0 with a hard shot less than four minutes into the second.

Combining the goal scoring with lack of a steady Capitals forecheck, one could forgive the home crowd for switching off their team after nearly an hour and a half of uninspired play. But, Karl Alzner’s one-timer from the right circle via Mike Green trickled past Islander keeper Jaroslav Halak at 11:26 of the second, and a long stretch of time in the New York zone was at last rewarded.

Nicklas Backstrom knew what went wrong in Wednesday’s 4-1 drubbing and how it could be remedied: “First of all, we need to get traffic in front because he’s a good goalie. They’re a good team. They collapse in front of the net and block shots … We talked about it and finally got some goals and that’s good for us, good for our confidence moving forward.”

Kyle Okposo doubled his team’s lead moments later, rifling a snap shot above both a diving Brooks Orpik and Grubauer’s glove. Alex Ovechkin brought Washington back within one, exactly two minutes after that, when a Matt Niskanen rebound landed on his stick blade; the game’s best goal scorer had to do little more than tap it into the net to make it 3-2.

Less than four minutes into the final frame, Backstrom deked and diced his way past the neutral zone, through the Islander backcheck, and into the slot. Finding himself with little time for a quality attempt, his wrister went glove-side high on Halak to send the sellout crowd at the Phone Booth into the rafters. Chimera’s game-winner with 12:23 left came after a couple of odd bounces ended with the puck in the right circle, where a snap shot of his own made its way through traffic and into the net, giving the Caps a well-earned lead that they would not relinquish.

“The biggest difference between the first night and tonight is that we really felt like we were getting to them,” said Tom Wilson, who was back in the lineup after missing almost two weeks with a concussion. “We were getting them on the forecheck, we were hitting their D [defense], we were making their lives difficult, and that’s what it takes in the playoffs. We didn’t score right away, we weren’t up right away, we just had to keep pounding the rock and staying on them, and it pays off in the long run.”

Grubauer stopped 18 of 21 shots in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut, and looked up to the task throughout. “I just liked his demeanor. I can’t put myself in those shoes. That is the great trait of a goalie,” Trotz said. “You are not so overwhelmed by the moment or the situation. That is what I liked about Philipp [Grubauer] is that he just came in and played and did a good job.”

See below for postgame audio from the locker room and Trotz’s press conference.

CAPS NOTES

  • Sustained pressure for all 60 minutes was ultimately the key to the win. While they were hesitant with the puck in the first period (at one point only getting three of 24 shot attempts on net) and into the second, more decisive puck-handling proved to be a major factor. Case in point: After five shots on net in the first period, the Capitals had 18 in the second and 12 in the third.
  • All told, however, they had just 35 of their 82 shots end up on net; 27 were blocked and 20 missed everything.
  • As Backstrom’s game-tying goal was being announced on the Verizon Center public address system, the in-house decibel meter came up with 112, very close to the pain threshold. From my press box perspective, I could physically feel the vibrations in my ears from the noise, and Trotz was highly complimentary of the Washington faithful afterward. And yes, my ears are still ringing well after the final horn.
  • It was the third time all season that the Caps won after trailing at the second intermission.
  • When Trotz reunited Ovechkin and Backstrom on the top line in the second period, it looked as if that sparked production throughout the entire forecheck from the energy and chemistry that the two share, but especially with that line; Backstrom assisted on Alzner’s and Ovechkin’s goals as well.

Postgame audio:

About Eric Hobeck

Eric Hobeck is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Redskins and Capitals. Eric contributes to high school sports coverage at InsideNova.com. He served as sports editor of The Rotunda at Longwood University for two years, where he was also the men’s basketball beat writer. He hosted a campus radio show for three years and called basketball and baseball games for the station’s award-winning sports team. You can follow Eric on Twitter @eric_hobeck.

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