We are well into the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and are now at the point where series can come to a close. The New York Islanders have a chance to finish off the sweep and be the first team to advance to the second round, while the Washington Capitals are hoping to stave off elimination and live to see another day.
Here is a preview for Tuesday’s Game 4 between the Capitals and Islanders, along with a series recap and a free pick. New York is the slight favorite, most recently listed at -115.
Although the Capitals came into the series as the higher seed, the Islanders have been the superior team through three games. Starting in Game 1, New York overcame a 2-0 deficit by scoring four unanswered goals to win 4-2. LW Josh Bailey scored the eventual game-winner, a shorthanded tally in the third, while RW Jordan Eberle, LW Anders Lee, and LW Anthony Beauvillier also scored for the Islanders.
RW T.J. Oshie scored both of Washington’s goals, both coming on the power play.
The next game, Washington got out to a quick lead thanks to star LW Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin would add another in the second period, but the rest was all New York.
D Nick Leddy, LW Matt Martin, and C Brock Nelson all found the back of the net in the second, giving the Islanders the lead that they would not relinquish. RW Cal Clutterbuck and Lee padded the lead, giving the Islanders a 5-2 win and a 2-0 series lead.
Sunday’s Game 3 was the closest game, a low-scoring battle that had to be settled in overtime. This time, New York got the game’s first goal, when Lee scored his third goal of the series late in the first period. But the Capitals answered back when C Evgeny Kuznetsov converted on the power play to even the game up at one.
The third period was a defensive battle highlighted by New York’s Semyon Varlamov and Washington’s Braden Holtby, eventually ending up going to overtime. But the game ended quickly in overtime, as C Matthew Barzal’s sweet backhand goal lifted the Islanders up 2-1, pushing them to the verge of a first-round sweep.
Keys to the Game
Washington will win if they turn things around during five-on-five. Through three games, the Caps have scored five goals, three of them coming on the power play. But they have been badly outplayed when both teams are at even strength.
Washington has been outshot 75-53 during five-on-five play and has just the two Game 2 goals from Ovechkin to show for it. Part of that is due to the Capitals’ lack of depth past their stars like Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, so the bottom-six will have to find a way to force pressure onto a deep Islanders squad.
New York will win if they continue to master the final period. Throughout the series, the Islanders have gotten better as the game has gone on and have regularly dominated the third period. New York has outscored Washington 6-0 following the second period, while also holding the Caps to six total shots in the third period and overtime.
They’ve been led by their captain Lee, as well as standouts like Barzal and Nelson, to drive offense during the final minutes and shut down opposing teams. If they finish games like they have been, a sweep may be in their future.
Expect to see the same goalies we have seen from the first three games. For Washington, that means Holtby. The former Cup winner has lost five of his six starts since the NHL returned to action and has allowed four goals twice during this series against the Islanders.
New York, meanwhile, will roll once again with Varlamov. The former Av has six wins in seven starts and has allowed more than two goals just once, his lone loss of the postseason, coming in the qualifying round against the Panthers.
There are few, if any teams, who are currently playing better than New York. A year after sweeping the Penguins, the Islanders appear to be well on their way to sweeping the Capitals. With the way Varlamov has looked in net, and the depth of all four lines all coming through, I’m taking the Islanders to close the series out tonight.
Pick: Islanders -115