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The Washington Capitals came out hard against the New York Islanders at the start of Game 5. Even when the Islanders got on the board first, the Caps treated it as a speed bump in one of the most determined efforts the Capitals displayed in a playoff game in recent memory. It was an unremitting effort at wearing down the Islanders, one that bore dividends on a game-tying goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov mid-way through the first, then an opportunistic goal by Karl Alzner mid-way through the second period. The pressure cracked the Islanders wide-open in the third when Washington rode goals by Brooks Laich, Kuznetsov, and Jason Chimera in a 6:18 stretch of the period to take command of the game and the series.
Here's Thursday night's Plus/Minus:
- Plus: Early Intensity. The Caps' effort from the opening puck drop has been inconsistent in this series. Not so on this night. They came out hard and strong; they had a 6-3 advantage in shots and a 12-6 advantage in attempts in the first five minutes. They did not score, but they set a tone. It put the Isles on their heels, a position from which they could not recover as the Caps dominated for most of the game, eventually chasing goaltender and personal demon, Jaroslav Halak.
- Minus: Hard to come up with one, but seeing Alex Ovechkin getting his leg bent in an awkward fashion under Johnny Boychuk in the second period might have been a big one. Fortunately, it was not.
Ten more notes on the game:
- For the fourth time in five games the Islanders opened the scoring, this time with a twist when it appeared that John Tavares closed his hand on the puck behind the Capitals' net moments before Josh Bailey got the Islanders on the board.
- The Islanders were credited with 31 hits in the first period, but they had only eight in the second. And it was not a possession-driven reduction in the number in the second period; the Caps had a 22-21 advantage in shot attempts at 5-on-5 and a total shots advantage of 18-8. It was the beginning of the end for the Islanders.
- By the end of the second period, every Capitals skater had been credited with a hit; only Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo were not credited with any for the Islanders. It was a glass-rattling sort of game.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov really stepped up for Washington in the sort of effort that was a long time coming. Swatting a puck out of mid-air from the side of the Islanders' cage, a sweet deke-backhand for a second goal, an assist, seven shots on goal. More than that, it seemed as if he was creating something or giving the Islanders fits every time he stepped out on the ice.
- A lot quieter game, but not much less effective, was that of Matt Niskanen on defense. In almost 23 minutes (leading the team in ice time), he had an assist, three shots on goal, another three shot attempts on top of that, two hits, and three blocked shots while finishing a plus-3.
- The Caps have outscored the Islanders by a 9-4 margin over the last 217:15 of this series.
- Karl Alzner's goal was his second of the series and tied him with Alex Ovechkin in the post season. He is also tied with Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk (pending the end of their Thursday game against Tampa Bay), and he has more goals than Rick Nash (1), James Neal (1), and both Sedin brothers (one apiece). He's a monster.
- Nicklas Backstrom was 11-for-14 in the faceoff circle, part of a 31-for-49 effort by the Caps (63.3 percent).
- The Caps had three power play chances. It might not sound noteworthy, but it tied for the most they have had in any game in this series. In their last 11 games going back to the regular season, the Caps have been awarded only 22 power plays.
- You might think it odd that Anders Lee would have been the Islander to engage Tom Wilson in a fight after all the woofing about Wilson's hit on Lubomir Visnovsky in Game 4. After all, Lee had only one fight in the regular season (his only NHL fight until tonight). Just remember, though, that the one fight was against Tom Wilson back in November.
Bonus note... The Caps play a "heavy" game as part of their philosophy. They are, by some measures, the biggest team in the league. The Islanders are a team that can - and do - win with speed. But they tried to go "heavy for heavy" with the Caps. It worked for 20 minutes, but it does not play to their strengths, especially with their defense depleted with Travis Hamonic and Visnovsky out. They paid a price for it, and the Caps dictated the way the game was played over the last 40 minutes.
And now, this...