The New York Islanders had their backs against the wall before Game 6 of their series with the Washington Capitals, but the Isles gutted out a 3-1 victory to keep their season alive for at least one more game.
The series is now even 3-3 with the seventh and deciding game scheduled for Monday night in Washington. The winner of that game will advance to the next round of the playoffs to face the New York Rangers.
“For the most part, I thought we played a complete game tonight,” Isles head coach Jack Capuano said. “All four lines contributed and Jaro (Halak) made some big plays for us. ”
This was the most physical game in what has been a chippy series. Both teams lost their composure at times with late hits, extra pushes and even punches thrown, but in the end, the Isles managed to keep things together enough to win the game. In all, there were nine roughing penalties handed out and a pair of misconduct penalties including one to Matt Donovan late in the 2nd period that left the Isles with just five available defensemen for the first half of the third period.
The teams traded goals in the first period with John Tavares giving the Isles a 1-0 lead 6:56 into the contest while John Carlson answered with a power play tally for Washington with just 4.3 seconds left on a screen shot from the point.
Both teams played a physical but conservative second period with neither club wanting to make the key mistake to allow the go-ahead goal.
The Isles finally broke the tie in the third period on a goal by Nikolay Kulemin at the 10:33 mark. Tavares was hit by two Washington players but got the puck to Nick Leddy who found Kulemin alone in front. There was also a scrum going on between the benches but the officials let play continue and the Isles took advantage.
“Johnny (Tavares) took the puck and got hit from behind, it looked like he got hooked or slashed in the corner there and the net front was left open,” Capuano said. “Leddy came down the wall and Kulemin made a really good play.”
Cal Clutterbuck scored an empty-net goal at 19:07 to clinch the 3-1 win for the Isles.
Another scrum broke out at the end of the game as the Isles objected to a late shot on goal by the Caps well after the buzzer had sounded.
So the Islanders survived the first of two must-win situations and live to fight another day. As Capuano said after the game, “We are not going away.”
And if this does turn out to be the last Isles game at the Nassau Coliseum, at least the team gave the fans and the building a proper sendoff with a hard-fought and well-earned win.
Anders Lee was a surprise scratch for the Isles while Tyler Kennedy also did not play. Colin McDonald was in the lineup along with Brock Nelson who was a scratch in Game 5.
The Isles remain without three top defensemen as Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan and Lubomir Visnovsky are all out with injuries. Scott Mayfield and Matt Donovan stepped into the lineup and both played well.
The Isles outhit the Caps 46-32 in this game. Matt Martin led all players with 11 hits while Cal Clutterbuck added seven. Alex Ovechkin led Washington with five hits.
This game was the first time in five meetings this season at the Nassau Coliseum that the Isles and Caps did not go to overtime.
The Isles all-time record in Game 7s is 3-4 including a win against Washington back in 1987 that was decided in four overtimes.