The NHL playoffs officially kicked off when the puck hit the ice at the Verizon Center in D.C. Wednesday night and the Islanders and Capitals once again made it clear that postseason hockey is an entirely different animal than the relatively apathetic regular season. Washington came into Game 1 the hotter group, as it had gone 9-3-1 over its last 13 regular season games, but it was the Islanders who grabbed the early series momentum as they beat the Caps soundly, 4-1.
The Isles did a terrific job limiting Washington’s goal-scoring machine, Alexander Ovechkin, as the Russian finished the game a minus-2. He had a team-high eight shots on goal but none got by New York netminder Jaroslav Halak, who finished Game 1 with 25 saves. His counterpart in net, Washington’s Braden Holtby, recorded 23 saves.
The Islanders put pressure on the Capitals early and late, getting 11 shots on goal in the first period and 10 on goal in the third. It was the second period, however, in which the Islanders had their most scoreboard success as Ryan Strome (assisted by John Tavares) and Josh Bailey (assisted by Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen) each beat Holtby.
With those tallies, the Islanders carried a 3-1 lead into the third period.
Brock Nelson got the scoring underway for the Islanders six minutes into the first period with Bailey and Johnny Boychuk assisting on the score. Washington’s Marcus Johansson knotted things up, 1-1, late in the first period but it was the only time the Caps would beat Halak.
Nelson would also score an empty-netter late in the third.
The Caps actually won the faceoff battle, 39-23, but the Isles got more shots on net, 27-25.
The Isles and Caps get back at it Friday for Game 2 (7 p.m., NBCSN). The series shifts to Nassau Coliseum on Sunday for Game 3 (12 p.m., NBC).