Jakub Vrana leaned over in dejection on the bench, an image emblematic of the Washington Capitals’ frustration following a 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Sunday.
The Capitals forward had a chance to win the game moments earlier on a breakaway at 4:04 of overtime, but Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov saved Vrana’s wrist shot and rebound attempt. Then, Vrana watched Islanders center Mathew Barzal score the winning goal at 4:28 to give New York a 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
“Ultimately, it’s their player executing a play and scoring a goal,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “We had a chance right before that, and we don’t convert. That’s overtime hockey in the playoffs. You get your opportunities, and they were able to convert on theirs.”
That’s happened throughout the series. The Islanders have generated more chances and converted on key ones. The Capitals haven’t created or cashed in enough.
So, Washington faces the possibility of being swept by New York and its former coach Barry Trotz, who left after guiding the Capitals to the Stanley Cup in 2018.
Game 4 is in Toronto, the hub city in the East, on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, MSG, MSG+, NBCSWA).
Teams with a 3-0 lead are 190-4 (97.9 percent) winning a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series. The Los Angeles Kings most recently won a best-of-7 series after losing the first three games, rallying to defeat the San Jose Sharks in the 2014 Western Conference First Round. The Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup.
“Obviously, we’re down 3-0, but you just have to move on,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “I know it’s a hard situation, but it’s not over yet. … We’re never going to stop believing in it and we’re going to play. L.A. did it. We won the Cup when we were down 2-0 against Columbus (in the first round in 2018), coming back, and we’re going to try.”
Hounded by the Islanders defense pair of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, Ovechkin was limited to one shot on goal Sunday, and that didn’t come until 15 seconds into overtime. The Capitals finished with 23 shots on goal, including 18 at even strength.
New York has held Washington to five goals in the series, two at even strength. Ovechkin scored both in a 5-2 loss in Game 2 on Friday.
Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the Capitals’ lone goal in Game 3 on the power play, beating Varlamov over the left shoulder from the right circle to tie it 1-1 at 5:50 of the second period.
“I think in order to have success in the playoffs, you need to create that overwhelming feeling for the other team and just come at them in waves,” said Washington forward Tom Wilson, who provided a screen on Kuznetsov’s goal. “The goals don’t come off of one-offs where you score off the rush and stuff. Often, it’s zone time, it’s line after line going out there and making the other team tired, just being relentless. I don’t think for whatever reason we’ve done that yet.”
Wilson had an opportunity to give the Capitals the lead on a shorthanded breakaway 11:53 into the second period, but he had trouble with a rolling puck and shot wide left. That missed opportunity, along with the two in overtime by Vrana (who has no points in six games after scoring an NHL career high 25 goals during the regular season), seemed to suggest the Capitals might be pressing on the rare quality chances they create against the Islanders’ diligent defense.
“I don’t think there’s any excuses,” Wilson said. “Sometimes it’s not clean, but you’ve got to do whatever you can to put it in the net. So, if we’re not generating a ton, when we do get our good looks we’ve got to make them count, and obviously I would have liked to put that [shorthanded chance] in the net.”
Washington was second in the NHL in averaging 3.42 goals per game during the regular season. Including their three round-robin games in Stanley Cup Qualifiers, the Capitals have scored 10 goals in six games, including six at even strength.
They have not scored more than two goals in any postseason game.
“At least we are getting those opportunities now where we weren’t in the first game or two of the series and started to get more as the game went on today,” Reirden said. “And if you get enough of those and you believe in yourself and you believe in your team and the skill level that we have, we are going to convert those. Now we are just all focused on getting one win here and moving on from there.”