For the third consecutive game, the New York Islanders acted like magicians and made a third period lead disappear. Tuesday night at the Nassau Coliseum, the Isles held a 4-1 lead against the Washington Capitals with a minute left in the second period only to fall in a shootout 5-4.
For the Caps, it was two valuable points as they compete for a playoff spot and even the Southeast Division title. For the Islanders, it was another frustrating loss in a season of inconsistency and near misses.
“We had the lead but it’s your discipline, your decision making and the intelligent part of the game that bothers you as a coach,” Isles Coach Jack Capuano said. “They battled and then some of the decisions that they made, they cost you.”
The game was not without highlights for the Islanders. Both Matt Moulson and John Tavares scored their 30th goal of the season. It was the third straight time Moulson has reached the 30 goal plateau while Tavares set a new career high for goals in a season with his 30th of the season.
Moulson was quick to credit his teammates and linemates for his success. “”The chance of playing with some great players over the past three years like Johnny (Tavares), P.A. (Parenteau) and Okie (Okposo), it’s more credit to them. I just have to be in the front of the net and they get it there,” he said.
The Isles did control the play, especially in the first period. A strange play gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead when a shot by Moulson bounced off the glass behind the goal and then deflected in off Caps starter Michal Neuirth’s chest and into the net. Moulson got credit for the goal and it was 1-0 Isles 8:54 into the game.
Defenseman Travis Hamonic made it 2-0 with a power play goal in the final minute of the opening period. He took the puck in deep near the goal line and tried to center it but it deflected into the net off the skate of a Caps defenseman. Hamonic also had two assists in the game and is showing increasing confidence with the puck in recent games.
Tavares scored twice in the second period with Mike Knuble deflecting home one for the Capitals and the Islanders had what seemed like a commanding 4-1 lead with just a minute left in the second stanza.
The momentum began to shift when Alex Ovechkin scored for Washington with 53 seconds left in the second period. Ovechkin put a rebound home to get the goal but he was able to skate into position to get the loose puck without being touched by an Islander player.
Dmitry Orlov’s third goal of the season just 1:51 into the third period got the Caps right back in the game. A pass was deflected and bounced right to Orlov in the slot and suddenly the Capitals had pulled to within 4-3.
Ovechkin struck again midway through the third period to even the score. He had three chances to shoot the puck at Isles goalie Evgeni Nabokov, the third from point blank range just outside the crease. Again, Ovechkin was not touched by any Islanders defensemen on the play.
In the shootout, John Tavares gave the Islanders a brief lead in the second round, but Ovechkin quickly evened the score on a backhander. In the fourth round, Matt Hendricks faked out Nabokov and deposited the puck into the empty net with a backhander to clinch the win and two valuable points for the Capitals.
“We really have to be better in the third period,” Tavares added. “In those key moments in the game,we let the momentum swing and they took it to us. I thought we controlled that hockey game for the first 40 minutes and took it to them. We had two three-goal leads and we let them back in it. It’s something we have to get better at and stress among ourselves that we can’t let this happen.”
“It’s really frustrating the way these games are going in the third period,” Hamonic said. “Whatever it is, we’ve got to nip it in the bud pretty soon. We were playing a really good game tonight and they got one late one and one early one to start the third. Maybe the wheels didn’t come off but we got on our heels and it was kind of downhill from there.”
The Islanders are now 10 points behind the eighth place Capitals in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with just 12 games to play.
They return to action Thursday night when they host the Philadelphia Flyers. The Capitals travel to Winnipeg Friday to take on the Jets.
Moulson became the first Islander to score 30 goals or more in three straight seasons since Ziggy Palffy did it from 1996-98.
The Isles were without P.A. Parenteau, who was out with an upper body injury. Goalie Al Montoya returned from the injured list and backed up Nabokov.
Washington’s Keith Aucoin finished with three assists and was a plus-three in the game.