Islanders look to extend lead vs. Capitals

The last time the Washington Capitals lost the first two games of a playoff series, it was April 2018. They won the next four games to advance beyond the first round. And then they went on to win the Stanley Cup.

The head coach of the team that's put the Capitals in a 2-0 hole this time was on the Washington bench then.

A familiar face -- and a familiar system -- has put the Capitals in the familiar hole they'll try to begin climbing out of Sunday afternoon, when Washington faces the New York Islanders in Game 3 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinals series in Toronto.

The Islanders took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series Friday night when they scored three goals in a span of 3:58 in the second period before adding two goals late in the third in a 5-2 victory.

The loss leaves a steep hill to climb for the Capitals. NHL teams ahead two games to none have won a best-of-seven series 86.4 percent of the time.

But no one knows what it's like the other 13.6 percent of the time quite like the Capitals, who have played in the most recent two series in which a team won after coming back from an 0-2 deficit. Last season, Washington won the first two games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Carolina Hurricanes before falling in seven games.

And in 2018, the Capitals lost the first two games of a first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets before winning the next four to begin a run that ended with Washington holding aloft the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.

Of course, that year the Capitals' head coach was Barry Trotz, who left the team following the Stanley Cup victory, was named the Islanders' head coach days later and has overseen New York's transformation from one of the least-disciplined teams in the NHL into one of its stingiest. So Washington knows there's an extra layer of difficulty in its quest to repeat history.

"We know the system, we watch the video," said Capitals star center Alex Ovechkin, who scored both of Washington's goals Friday night. "We all know how to play against those kind of teams."

The Islanders' system was most impressively on display in the third period Friday. New York gave up the first seven shots of the third but spent most of the final 10 minutes smothering the Capitals deep in their own zone before scoring twice on worn-down Washington in the final three minutes.

"I like our third period," Trotz said. "You look at the strength down low -- Anders Lee, who's our captain, he kept the puck down there for about 30 seconds.

"That's how you win. The guys are committed to that effort."

With Friday's win, the Islanders improved to 8-0 when scoring at least three goals in the playoffs under Trotz and 8-2 when allowing two goals or fewer.

The Islanders, who are 5-1 in Toronto after beating the Florida Panthers in four games in a qualifying-round series, are up 2-0 in the first round for the second straight year. New York swept the Pittsburgh Penguins last April.

"It doesn't get any easier from here. They have a championship pedigree over there," Islanders right winger Matt Martin said. "It's just going to get harder and harder from here, so we've got to be ready and we've got to stay true to our game as much as possible. Hopefully, at the end of the day, that's enough."

--Field Level Media
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