By Lewis Gould
After Alex Ovechkin scored twice to help the Caps avoid a sweep in game 4, the Islanders’ defense led a 4-0 win that sent Washington home for the summer.
In the series-clinching game, Anthony Beauvillier scored two goals, his team-leading fifth and sixth since the start of the qualifying round. On his second goal, a brilliant individual effort in which he finished off an odd-man rush with Josh Bailey, Beauvillier was checked hard to the ice and skated slowly to the bench, but he returned for a regular shift.
“He’s really stepped up his game and he’s been a big leader for us,” Bailey said. “That second goal, paying the price, just getting to the net. He’s doing a lot of things well. It’s a lot of fun to play with him.”
The final two goals, from Nick Leddy and Bailey, came when the desperate Capitals lifted goaltender Braden Holtby for an extra attacker in the final minutes.
Ovechkin finished the five-game series with four goals, but he was blanked in three of those games. The Capitals couldn’t get scoring beyond their three stars, Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who accounted for Washington’s scoring. The Islanders’ scoring was spread out among 10 players.
In Game 4, the Capitals had used their speed to open up skating lanes and their aggressiveness to wear down the Islanders, who have the oldest team in the playoffs with an average age just shy of 29.
“Anytime you get a chance to close this out you want to get it done,” Bailey said. “The last game hurt. I thought a lot of guys stepped up and did what needed to be done. And when we’re playing the right way, you can feel it on the bench.”
The Islanders-Capitals matchup was physical from Game 1, when a crushing check by the Islanders captain Anders Lee forced the Washington star Nicklas Backstrom out of the lineup with a concussion. Backstrom returned to the series after missing the previous three games. He played a regular shift in Game 5, but was mostly ineffective.
During postgame interviews, Reirden described Lee’s hit as “predatory.”
This rivalry has intensified since the teams’ 2015 first-round series, which Washington won in seven games.
During the regular season, the Islanders tied for fifth in the league for fewest goals allowed, making it back-to-back seasons when they finished in the top five in that category.
When Trotz arrived on Long Island in June 2018, he was celebrated as few coaches are. In his first year, fans chanted his name loudly, a rarity for a coach in any sport.
Last year was the first season that the Islanders played without John Tavares since they drafted him first over all in 2009. Tavares, their captain, had signed with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent, and few saw the Islanders finishing even close to a playoff spot without him.
Days before Tavares left, and a month after Lou Lamoriello was hired to replace Garth Snow as general manager, Trotz agreed to a five-year, $20 million contract, more than twice what he was earning in Washington.
Without Tavares, the Islanders have emphasized a balanced attack. During their 68-game 2019-20 regular season, six players scored at least 14 goals. The Islanders’ top four points leaders — Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Lee and Bailey — were all Islanders draft picks and have spent their careers learning the Islanders’ system, albeit while dealing with coaching changes.