The Washington Capitals are familiar with the situation they face after letting a two-goal lead slip away in a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Wednesday.
The Capitals trailed in each of their four Stanley Cup Playoff series when they won the Cup in 2018, including three times after losing Game 1. So they’re not about to panic heading into Game 2 of the best-of-7 series in Toronto, the East hub city, on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, FX-CA, TVAS, NBCSWA, MSG, MSG+).
“We just move on,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We’re going to watch the video, and it’s over. Nothing you can do right now. We’re just going to learn from our mistakes and looking forward to the next game.”
But the Capitals know they’ll have to make some adjustments after some costly mistakes saw them go from ahead 2-0 to trailing 3-2 in a 7:55 span that bridged the final 1:03 of the second period and opening 6:52 of the third.
And they might have to play Game 2 without center Nicklas Backstrom, who did not play in the second or third periods after sustaining an unspecified injury on a hit from Islanders forward Anders Lee 2:33 into the game. Lee was called for interference.
Coach Todd Reirden said Backstrom was being evaluated after the game and expected to know more Thursday about his availability for Game 2.
Backstrom was third on the Capitals with 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists) in 61 regular-season games. He had one assist in Washington’s three games in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Ovechkin was optimistic that his longtime center will be ready to play in Game 2.
“Obviously, everybody knows how good he is,” Ovechkin said. “He’s a big boy. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be fine. We have tomorrow, one day, before the game, and we’ll see how he’s going to feel.”
The good news for the Capitals is center Lars Eller is expected to play in Game 2 after he was unavailable for Game 1. Eller was required to quarantine after returning to Toronto on Saturday following the birth of his son Alexander.
Not having Eller for Game 1 left Washington thin at center after Backstrom was injured.
“That was obviously a tough part to go through that game without two of our top three centermen,” said Reirden, an assistant on Islanders coach Barry Trotz’s staff with the Capitals for the Cup run in 2018. “But we did some good things, we were in control of the game, and then it was self-inflicted issues as the game went on that ended up ultimately costing us the game.”
The Capitals played well for much of the first and second periods. They took a 2-0 lead in the second on power-play goals from T.J. Oshie at 5:27 and 11:18. But the Islanders seized the momentum when forward Jordan Eberle‘s shot bounced in off goalie Braden Holtby‘s glove with 1:03 left in the second.
Lee scored on a rebound 51 seconds into the third to tie it 2-2 before Josh Bailey‘s shorthanded goal, following a poor exchange between Holtby and Ovechkin, at 6:52 gave New York a 3-2 lead. The Islanders controlled the game after that and increased their lead to 4-2 when Anthony Beauvillier scored with 8:05 remaining.
“I think we have an experienced enough group to know that one game doesn’t make a series,” said Holtby, who took blame for the Islanders’ first and third goals. “It’s how you respond to it, it’s how you do the little things, learn from the game that you just played and find ways to play them better. I think to push forward from a game like today is one that I want to make sure that I have my best game come next game and as a group, I think individually, if we all expect more of ourselves, then that’s how we’ve won in the past and that’s how we’re going to do it again. First game in the series doesn’t say much about how it’s going to go. It’s how you respond from here on out.”
The Capitals have some positives to draw on from their start to Game 1 but recognize that their play in the third wasn’t good enough.
“The big moments of that game, as leaders, we didn’t take care of enough,” said defenseman John Carlson, who had two assists in his return after missing the round-robin with an unspecified injury. “It [stinks], but it’s easy to learn from. It’s easy to see what the difference was in our team in the first half of the game versus the second half.”