Barry Trotz emphasized team play before anything else when he was winning a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals two seasons ago. Last night, in Toronto, he used that same formula on his current club to defeat his old one, leading the Islanders to a convincing 4-0 win and wrapping up the best-of-seven series in only five games.
“I think we did a great job as a team. It takes everyone - forwards, defensemen, great goaltending - to limit a team like that and their offense. We got tons of big saves from Varly exactly when we needed it,” Adam Pelech would say in his post-game comments.
It was 5v5 dominance from New York in all but game four, as the Capitals, when not on the power play, were outplayed significantly in this series. New York outscored Washington 11-3 when the teams were even, and only allowed 24 high-danger scoring chances.
The Islanders seem to have benefited the most of all the teams that entered the bubble resulting from the Coronavirus shutdown. Getting Pelech and Casey Cizikas back were essential to the group finding their mojo. As you might remember, they were floundering to a .500 stretch over a course of 30 games prior to the lockdown. And Semyon Varlamov, handed the reigns after training camp 2.0, has not disappointed either, with outstanding performances both against Florida and Washington.
“All the D were solid in front of me, we were blocking tons of shots. We didn’t give up a lot from Ovie (Alex Ovechkin). We know how dangerous he is. Everyone did an awesome job, I’m so proud of everybody,” said Varlamov, who was terrific in this series particularly, posting a 97 percent save percentage 5v5 and grabbing a game five shutout.
The Islanders made some lineup changes for game five, as Ross Johnston entered for a banged up Cal Clutterbuck and Michael Dal Colle was inserted in place of Derick Brassard. They both performed admirably and didn’t appear out of step or out of place in a tough situation.
“Both those guys coming in did a great job. They were hard on pucks, added some weight, some live legs. It allowed us to put Leo (Komarov) with Casey and Marty (Matt Martin) and take a four-line approach,” Trotz said. “We had all four lines going. There were no passengers tonight. Once we got the lead, we really got to our game.”
Just what the coach wanted.
“That’s what we envisioned for game five. We made some adjustments and that’s how we wanted to play. The players executed it. We wanted to frustrate them, and we did an excellent job at that,” Trotz said. “Obviously, I have great emotions - beating a good team that has so much talent and I had so much invested in. It’s the same thing I’m trying to build with this group. Hoping we can also do something very special.”
Of all the Islanders that have grown over the course of these two rounds, is there anyone larger than Anthony Beauvillier right now? He has come out of the gate flying and now shares the post-season lead with six goals. Another remarkable note on Beauvillier, per Eric Hornick, is that he had the game-winning goals in both clinching games of each round, the first time that‘s been done since Mike Bossy in 1983. He looks comfortable on Brock Nelson’s wing and has embraced the philosophy Trotz has put forth. To see the progression in his game is a delight for many Islanders fans, as player development has never been exactly their forte.
“It’s been a lot of fun to play with him. He’s really stepped up his game, been a big leader, scored some big goals. That second goal, paying the price. Unbelievable,” Josh Bailey said of his linemate.
“It’s not really something you focus on (leading playoffs in goals). Just try to go out there and play your best and help your team win hockey games. That’s my main focus these last couple of weeks. It’s going to be the same focus moving forward, it’s not something I’m going to think about,” a humble Beauvillier added later.
What this all means for the Islanders is they now get a couple of days to unwind and decompress from a physically taxing series, one that they were fortunate to close out in such short order. If the Philadelphia Flyers hold off the Montreal Canadiens (they lead the series 3-2 heading into Friday’s game six), it will be a throwback to the old days, with a playoff meeting between the two teams. Should Montreal pull off the ‘upset’, the Islanders would play the Boston Bruins in round two.