June 24, 2019

Washington Capitals Game 5 Review: Washington moves to brink of second round with 5-1 drubbing of Islanders

With an iron will and tenacity that no opponent could counter, the Washington Capitals strode onto the ice Thursday night with a grand opportunity. A good performance with a result to match would put them on the verge of their first Eastern Conference Semifinal appearance in three seasons.

Down a goal early, they weren’t fazed. Rising to the occasion, five unanswered goals, two from Evgeny Kuznetsov, lit a fire under the Verizon Center faithful and made for a 5-1 win over the New York Islanders in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

A hard wrister from Josh Bailey at 5:48 of the first gave New York a 1-0 lead, but even that didn’t deter Washington from its gameplan of puck possession with a purpose and creating regular chances. 

Kuznetsov’s first came three minutes and 17 seconds after the opening salvo, a rebound past New York goalie Jaroslav Halak after a Marcus Johansson shot from the slot. 

“Just wanted to do my job,” a straightforward Kuznetsov said afterward in a buzzing Washington dressing room. “When I score and hear loud in stadium, I feel like crazy and I wanted to say thanks [to the fans] for coming today. It’s more loud than Islanders game [at Nassau Coliseum] and I hope we’ll see [the fans] in the next round.”

The Caps did a solid job of maintaining momentum throughout the remainder of the contest and Karl Alzner’s tally just before the halfway mark of the second felt like the team knocking down a door that they’d been steadily knocking and banging on for most of the middle frame leading up to it.

A stretch of 6 minutes and 18 seconds in the third period when Washington scored three pivotal goals shook Verizon Center to its core. Brooks Laich first went “upper 90″ on Halak after a Jason Chimera rebound bounced its way into the slot. Kuznetsov’s second came when he took a Matt Niskanen feed just inside the neutral zone, and went forehand-backhand around the Islander backcheck to make it 4-1.

Jason Chimera’s second of the playoffs made it 5-1 after his snap shot from the left circle trickled through Halak. The old Capital nemesis’ fifth goal allowed on 35 shots forced Islanders coach Jack Capuano’s hand, and former Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth saw the remaining 11 minutes of action.

The plan going into the third, according to Kuznetsov, was to “keep pushing, keep working hard. We find a way how we can win and we just want to stay this way.”

The prevailing sentiment in the postgame, though, was that there’s plenty of work left to be done. Capitals head coach Barry Trotz put that in no uncertain terms, saying, “It was one game. I don’t think momentum carries to the next game; you have to create your own momentum and we’ll have to do that … we have a mission that we know we’ve got to play a 60-minute game, or longer, and we’ve just got to be mentally ready and committed to what we need to do.”

“It’s the playoffs, man,” Alex Ovechkin said. “You win, you lose, it doesn’t matter what. You have to be focusing so we just go in there and try to win a game.” He also shrugged off the potential of beating the Islanders in the final game at Nassau Coliseum: “We going to take game-by-game. Next game is going to be huge and we’re going to do some adjustments on our mistakes and hope we’re gonna win.”

However, Trotz does have faith in his rapidly-maturing squad to get to take care of business.

“I think we know the stakes are very high, and I have a lot of trust in the group. We’ve got some good leaders in that room, so you trust in the group. No different than a parent. At some point the kids go off to college, and hopefully you’re a good parent during this year and they’ve learned a few things as you went along.”

CAPS NOTES

  • Secondary scoring was very critical on Thursday, with all five goals coming from the bottom three lines. The Johansson-Kuznetsov-Chimera line was especially effective, with three goals and four assists between the bunch. “Secondary scoring is huge for us,” Chimera said. “We need that … for the most part our second and third and fourth lines did a great job tonight.”
  • Over five games, the Caps have killed all 12 penalties that they’ve faced. Over four minutes of man-advantage time on Thursday, Caps goalie Braden Holtby stopped both shots he saw, a credit to the defensive coaching abilities of Washington assistant Todd Reirden and the chemistry between the penalty-killing unit as well as Holtby, who could share the “Great Wall of Chinatown” moniker with the Wizards’ John Wall.
  • Washington is now 5-9 all-time in Game 5 when a series is tied at two games apiece…
  • …and is 5-6 when leading 3-2. The last time Washington won a series 4-2 after winning the final two games of the series was in the first round in 1991 against the Rangers.
  • If you’re looking for a number to point to that helps explain the victory, the eye-popping 41-23 shot differential in favor of Washington should do the trick. They outshot New York 18-8 in the second and 13-7 in the third.
  • As all three goals in the third period happened, the party-like atmosphere at the Phone Booth increased exponentially. It’s almost like Caps fans have been waiting five years to shellack Halak (say that five times fast) in that manner.
  • Game 6 is on Saturday at 3 p.m. Eastern and will be nationally televised on NBC.
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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