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Islanders blow shot to sweep Capitals out of Stanley Cup playoffs

The Islanders couldn’t finish off the series sweep for the second time this postseason.

Alex Ovechkin scored two goals as the Capitals took a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, forcing a Game 5 in the best-of-seven first-round series after the Isles had taken a commanding 3-0 lead.

The Capitals are the second team the Islanders missed an opportunity to sweep since arriving in the Toronto bubble more than three weeks ago. The Islanders failed to defeat the Florida Panthers in Game 3 after going up 2-0 in the best-of-five play-in series before advancing with a win in Game 4.

Washington scored three unanswered goals spanning the second and third periods Tuesday after the Islanders went up 2-0 in the first. Whether the Islanders got complacent or the Capitals were jolted awake after going down by a pair of goals, Washington owned the second half of the game.

The Islanders may have gotten the start they wanted, but they looked too tired to finish as strongly as they have all postseason.

“I thought it came too easy for us in the first,” coach Barry Trotz said on a Zoom call following the loss. “Therefore, we didn’t have enough skin in the game, if you will. I’m not going to take anything away from the way they played, they played really well. They played a pretty complete game. We didn’t respond enough, we just need to respond next game.”

The Capitals’ Radko Gudas hip checks the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck.NHLI via Getty Images

Tied at two heading into the final 20 minutes, Ovechkin buried his second goal at 3:40 of the third with a slap shot on the rush. The Islanders had no answer, as the Capitals continued to dominate the pace of play to keep their season alive.

Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov turned aside 26 of the 29 shots he faced.

“We talked about this being the toughest game to win, and that was no different tonight,” Anders Lee said.

The Islanders managed to swing the momentum in their favor right away after Brendan Dillon was called for tripping Brock Nelson 58 seconds into the first period.

It was an eventful first special teams battle as Capitals center Lars Eller nearly capitalized on a shorthanded breakaway that Varlamov turned aside. On the subsequent play, Lee put up a good shot that Braden Holtby stopped before Anthony Beauvillier hit the post in the closing seconds of the man-advantage.

But the Islanders kept throwing the puck on net until Jean-Gabriel Paggeau deflected a long shot from Scott Mayfield to make it 1-0 at 3:50 of the first. The Capitals were held to just one shot on goal through the first nine minutes of the game.

Dominating through the neutral zone, the Islanders went up 2-0 after Mathew Barzal buried his third goal of the postseason on the rush at 9:16. Washington coach Todd Reirden immediately used his timeout to try and wake his team up.

“You look at their goal scorers tonight, Ovechkin with two, Kuznetsov with one, their top players were their top players tonight,” Trotz said. “I thought we responded well after the [Capitals timeout in the first], we didn’t have enough pushback, but we got through that period and it was 2-0.

“We got a power play to start the second and then we took penalties, unnecessary penalties. That gave them some momentum. They got back on track and it was a one-shot game after that.”

The Capitals began to find their footing in the back half of the first period but the Islanders stuck with them. The physicality also significantly increased from both teams. Capitals right winger Garnet Hathaway, Barzal and Mayfield got into it before Casey Cizikas and Ovechkin wrestled later in the first.

Varlamov made back-to-back saves, including a robbery on Eller, as time expired in the first.

Opening up the second on the power play, the Islanders quickly lost any momentum they had as Barzal was called for holding Eller to negate the man-advantage. Mayfield was then called for delay of game while trying to clear, which led to Caps going on a five-on-three for 1:25. T.J. Oshie then got caught hooking Pageau to make it four-on-three.

Shortly after it became four-on-four, Evgeny Kuznetsov finessed one past Varlamov at 3:35 to cut the Islanders’ lead 2-1. On the subsequent shift, Barzal was again called for holding to go back down four-on-three. Ovechkin then sent a one-timer from the top of the zone to knot the game at two at 5:29 of the second.

Washington controlled much of the second period, pinning the Islanders in their zone for long stretches of time and getting ample shots on a tired group. After outshooting the Capitals 13-9 in the first, the Islanders were outshot 15-7 in the second.

“You just got to regroup, reset, it’s like anything. … You have to move on, learn from it and go forward,” Lee said. “You can’t be dwelling on the past, can’t be dwelling on a game and you just need to look forward to the next time you’re out there.”