Isles win playoff opener against Capitals
(AP) -- Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, Ryan Strome and the New York Islanders showed that experience is not required for playoff success.
Each of those three young forwards scored in the postseason for the first time, with Nelson getting a pair of goals. Goalie Jaroslav Halak got plenty of help in keeping Alex Ovechkin off the scoring sheet, and the Islanders beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series Wednesday night.
Bailey (2008), Nelson (2010) and Strome (2011) were all first-round draft picks by New York, none is older than 25, and they entered Wednesday with these combined playoff numbers: seven games, zero goals, three assists.
That didn't matter one bit on this night. Nor did Halak's struggles down the stretch in the regular season. The goalie who stymied Ovechkin and the Capitals while playing for eighth-seeded Montreal in a 2010 first-round upset, was mostly superb. He made 24 saves, allowing only Marcus Johansson's goal in the final minute of the first period.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is at Washington on Friday night. The Capitals will need to figure out a way to slow down New York's offense, avoid lengthy lulls, and get more from Ovechkin. The three-time NHL MVP scored 53 goals this season to lead the league for the third year in a row and fifth time overall. But all eight of his shots Wednesday were turned aside.
Washington's NHL-best power play went 0 for 2, compiling a total of three shots during those opportunities.
Neither of these teams qualified for the playoffs a year ago. The Capitals made it six straight seasons prior to that, although they failed to get past the second round in that span.
A hush fell over the red-clad Washington crowd about six minutes into Game 1, when Nelson took a pass from Bailey, moved in unimpeded and let fly a wrister just as he reached the right circle. Even though there was no traffic in front and no apparent deflection, the puck zipped past Braden Holtby's glove and inside the right post.
Thanks to some hustle by forward Brooks Laich, Washington tied it with 56.3 seconds left in the first period. Halak went after a dump-in along the boards behind his net, and Laich harassed him to poke free the puck, kept it away from defenseman Nick Leddy and John Tavares, then fed Johansson for a wrister from the right circle.
A pivotal sequence came early in the second period, when play was delayed for about five minutes while a broken glass panel behind Holtby's net was replaced. Less than 30 seconds after action resumed, Tavares, second in the league in points this season, beat Michael Latta on a faceoff.
The puck went to Strome, whose wrister from the left circle flew over Holtby's right shoulder to make it 2-1.
Midway through the period, Bailey got to a bouncing puck off a cross by Kyle Okposo, yet another first-round pick. A sprawling Holtby blocked the initial shot, but Bailey's second stab sent the puck in off the post and Holtby's left shoulder.
At that, the spectators became subdued -- real quiet for stretches, other than chants disparaging the officiating.
Nelson added an empty-netter with 79 seconds left.
NOTES: New York was missing D Travis Hamonic, injured last week. He missed the regular-season finale. ... Johansson's goal was the fifth of his career in the playoffs. ... The Capitals were without F Tom Wilson, been sidelined since early April after getting a concussion when he was hit in the face with the puck during a game. ... Patrick Division rivals for years, the Capitals and Islanders have met in six previous playoff series, with New York winning five. But they last faced each other in the postseason in 1993.
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