New York Islanders stunned Washington Capitals in the first game of the NHL first-round, playoff series between the pair on Wednesday, but can the Islanders keep the momentum going? The experienced and proven Capitals aren’t going to go down without a fight, surely.
Wednesday delivered an eventful start to the series between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, one of many series openers in the first round of the playoffs that’s living up to its billing and overcoming the unusual circumstance and playing conditions brought on by coronavirus-mandated edits.
The Islanders stormed back from a two-goal deficit and scored four unanswered goals, including three in the third period, in a shocking 4-2 victory over the Washington Capitals at Scotiabank Arena; an upset over the Alex Ovechkin-inspired Capitals that defied the odds and sent seismic shockwaves through the NHL.
It’s been quite the ride thus far for the Islanders in Toronto, one of two bubble cities chosen by the league to host the playoffs of the resurrected 2019-20 NHL season that was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the qualifying round of the NHL’s Return to Play format, the Islanders edged the Florida Panthers in four games to clinch the No.7 seed in the Eastern Conference. Now, following Wednesday’s victory, the Islanders are 1-0 up on the highly-fancied, No.3 seed Washington Capitals and, for now, at least, they are in the driver’s seat of this best-of-seven series of the first round.
Right from the first puck drop, the Islanders took it to the Capitals, leaving no doubt about what kind of series they intended to play. Gutsy, intense, physical, hard-hitting hockey – a fact nowhere more so evident than in the 10 penalties that amounted to 23 minutes in the box picked up by the Islanders. The Capitals responded with 17 penalty minutes acquired in the box.
The day’s proceedings didn’t go without some controversy though. New York Islanders captain leveled Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom just two-and-a-half minutes into the first period, sending the Swede out of the series opener.
Washington head coach Todd Reirden and the Capitals bench was up in arms over Lee’s blindside hit on Backstrom, for which the Islanders captain only received a two-minute interference penalty; Reirden went so far to dub it as “predatory” in a post-game interview. Washington defenseman John Carlson described Lee’s hit as appearing “real dirty to me” and TJ Oshie labelled it as “extremely late” and “cheap.”
Anders Lee, however, made light of it. “I tried to throw the brakes on a little bit there, but I caught him.” He added, “The end result after that was a penalty, a couple of fights. It was settled and then the game continued on.”
In spite of the controversy surrounding the aggressive hit, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety concluded no further disciplinary action was required. And as yet, Backstrom’s status for game 2 or the broad spectrum of the series is unclear.
It follows the first game of the series sets up a riveting game 2 on Friday and, potentially, an absorbing series that could very well go the distance between two sides that are clearly in it to win it. For which the gloves are well and truly off.
As it is, the Islanders are one of the longshots to win the Stanley Cup according to bookmakers while the Capitals are amongst the top favorites to win it all – after the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Las Vegas Golden Knights, to name a few of the top betting favorites.
And yet, NHL odds are never absolute. Or entirely predictive. Last season, the St. Louis Blues, the quintessential longshots of the competition, stunned all and sundry to lift the Stanley Cup. In turn, proving the old adage: anything can happen in the postseason.
The playoffs are an entirely different prospect to the regular season, something that has never been truer than during this unprecedented time, amidst an unimaginable global pandemic that has changed the entire format, approach, landscape… of the NHL playoffs. It looks the same, feels the same but, at the same time, it looks totally different, feels totally different. It’s unique.
If the series falls in line with the NHL odds, the Capitals should win it. However, if game 1 is an indication of what’s in store, the Islanders could very well win it thereby defying the NHL odds. Care to bet on it?