Scoring two goals in a span of fewer than four minutes Saturday night vaulted the New York Islanders into a wild-card spot — and inched them closer to the Washington Capitals, whose inability to stop two-goal flurries has tightened the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Postseason implications will already be looming Monday night when the Islanders host the Capitals in Elmont, N.Y. in the first game this season between the longtime divisional rivals.
Both teams were off Sunday after playing at home Saturday night, when the Islanders edged the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 and the Capitals fell to the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1.
It was the second straight game in which a two-goal sequence decided outcomes for both the Islanders and Capitals.
The Islanders suffered their season-high fourth straight loss Thursday night, when the Minnesota Wild scored the tying and go-ahead goals during a 93-second span in the third period of a 3-1 win.
New York wasted little time establishing some momentum Saturday night, when Casey Cizikas scored off a Canadiens’ turnover 2:25 after the opening faceoff before Anthony Beauvillier doubled the lead at the 6:03 mark. The two-goal first period was the first for the Islanders since they scored twice in the first 20 minutes of a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 16.
“I thought the start was really good,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “We came out and established territory. All night long, we tried to generate shots and put shots to the net.”
The Islanders, who outshot the Canadiens 38-23, moved one point ahead of the idle Pittsburgh Penguins into the second and final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have two games in hand on New York, which is three points behind the wild-card-leading Capitals but with one game in hand on Washington.
“That’s the goal — we want to make the playoffs and want to play the way we have to play to make them,” Beauvillier said.
The Capitals cost themselves a chance to create some separation with the Islanders and Penguins — and an opportunity to gain on the third-place New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division — with consecutive losses to the Philadelphia Flyers, who are in seventh place in the Metropolitan.
“No one likes losing, obviously,” Capitals right winger Tom Wilson said. “So when we’re not winning games, we want to turn it around and we want to fix it, especially when you’re playing divisional opponents.”
After surrendering two goals in a span of 1:57 early in the third period to fall behind by three goals in a 5-3 loss on Wednesday night, the Capitals entered Saturday’s second period tied before allowing the Flyers to score their final two goals just 59 seconds apart.
The two-goal flurries have been especially costly as Washington continues to struggle on the offensive end. The Capitals have scored just seven goals in its last four games, a span in which they’ve gone 1-3-0. The lone win was a 1-0 blanking of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 8.
“I think the last two games, we haven’t been ourselves,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We had the puck a lot, we had good possession, but it is about scoring goals. We’ve got to create more. We’ve got to score more goals.”
–Field Level Media