It wasn’t pretty at all times, but the New York Islanders, under head coach Barry Trotz, pulled off a series win over the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Islanders led 3-0 in the series after Mathew Barzal scored a massive overtime goal in Game 3. The veteran Capitals responded in Game 4 with a strong performance, but it was all Islanders in Game 5 as New York pulled off a 4-0 win over the 2018 Stanley Cup champions.
As the seventh seed, the Islanders defeated the Florida Panthers in the Qualifying Round. They were the better team throughout the series and carried that over into the first round against Washington who played three round-robin games.
Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden
Following Trotz’s Stanley Cup win with the Capitals in 2018, he came to New York after not renewing his contract. He had the upper hand on his former assistant coach in nearly every aspect of the game, and it showed — Todd Reirden can only hope to keep his job after a second-straight first-round exit.
It seemed like Trotz had an answer for every move Reirden made. Even with the Islanders missing two key contributors in Cal Clutterbuck and Derick Brassard in Game 5, Trotz rotated in Michael Dal Colle and Ross Johnston into the lineup and saw strong games from both of them. Reirden’s lineup adjustments did not seem to work out, most notably playing Nicklas Backstrom on the third line in his return after missing the previous three games with his team needing offense.
Trotz had an answer in Game 1 with the Islanders down heading to the third period and then showed his ability to lock down on defense with a lead in Game 2. In the next game, he managed to get the Islanders to an overtime win. Trotz rebounded with a strong defensive game in Game 5 and Reirden had no answer to the Islanders’ incredible play in the neutral zone in their shutout victory.
“I’ve got great emotions in a couple of areas,” said Trotz. “Number one is obviously beating a very good team that has so much talent and I got so much invested with that group of core players. I can’t tell you how much they meant to me and I’m trying to have that same relationship with my group and hopefully, we can share something special.”
As well as the Islanders’ four forward lines contributed, their defense played exceptionally well. While Alex Ovechkin scored three goals in the series, the Islanders allowed goals to only three forwards in Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie. Despite the Capitals having the last change in three of the five games, New York’s defensive unit completely shut down Washington five-on-five.
The Capitals only scored four even-strength goals. Even with the Islanders putting out Nick Leddy and Andy Greene as their third defensive pair, they all outplayed the Capitals’ defensemen led by John Carlson. The All-Star was a minus-3 in Game 5 and a minus-11 in the series. Carlson did not seem to be himself after an injury in an exhibition game earlier this summer. The Islanders also got tremendous goaltending from Semyon Varlamov throughout the series.
Islanders’ Power Play
When the Islanders needed their power play to come through in the final game, they were able to get a huge goal from Anthony Beauvillier. Still, the power play went 2-22 and will need to do better in the next round if they are going to want to make a run. While they have been able to set up in the offensive zone, they have struggled with their entries as both Florida and Washington have shut down their entry rushes.
The Islanders could only get their power play set up after a faceoff win. Trotz made a significant adjustment in Game 2, going with Leddy on the second unit and capitalized with a critical game-tying goal. Even without Brassard in Game 5, J.G. Pageau filled in well as he has done since he was acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline and was on the ice for Beauvillier’s power-play goal to open the scoring in the final game.
“We talked about it yesterday,” said Beauvillier. “We felt pretty good about our last game on the power play just moving the puck and having chances. We also said it’s going to come so it was big for us to get the first one. We are going to continue to work on it and obviously it will be huge moving forward.”
The Islanders will await the winner of the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens to see who they will face in the second round. The Flyers currently have a 3-2 series lead and would face the Islanders if they can win the fourth game. However, if Montreal can come back in the series, New York would face the Boston Bruins in Round 2.