John Tavares came up big for the New York Islanders in Game 3 of their opening-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals and he came up big when it counted most. In just 15 seconds, Tavares erased a growing doubt about his team’s ability to hold a lead and gave the Isles a 2-1 victory over the Caps and a 2-1 series lead.
This was a game that shouldn’t have needed overtime. The Islanders dominated play for the first 40 minutes, outshooting the visitors 33-13 through 40 minutes, but all they could manage was a 1-0 lead on a second period goal by Kyle Okposo.
Then, in a script all too familiar to Islanders’ fans, the Isles took their foot off the gas pedal in the third period as the desperate Capitals made their big push to even the game. Washington spent most of the first 14 minutes of the third period in the Isles zone and kept the pressure on. The Islanders struggled to clear the puck and were on their heels and clinging to their one-goal lead.
The Capitals finally broke through and tied the game at 13:54 on a goal by Nicklas Backstrom. The puck bounced in off the cross bar and just barely crossed the goal line, but replays confirmed the puck was over the line and the game was tied.
The Isles regained their equilibrium after allowing the tying goal, but neither team could score in the final 6:06 of regulation time and the game headed to sudden death overtime all knotted at 1-1.
“After they scored the goal, the light bulb kind of went on for us,” Cal Cluttberbuck said. “Johnny’s line went out there and had a really good shift in the offensive zone…Heading into overtime; I think we almost had that confidence back, like we were in control of the game again.”
At the start of overtime, Tavares did what true superstars do. He came up with a big play in a big spot of an important game.
First, the Isles’ captain won the faceoff to start overtime. Johnny Boychuk shot the puck into the Capitals zone and goalie Braden Holtby gloved it and left it for defenseman John Carlson.
Carlson tried to clear it up the far boards but Nick Leddy stopped it at the blue line and put a low shot toward the goal. Nikolay Kulemin deflected it forcing Holtby to make a pad save. Brooks Orpik failed to clear the rebound and Tavares beat Holtby to the short side to give the Islanders the win and the series lead.
“I didn’t have much room,” Tavares admitted. “I recognized that Holtby wasn’t quite on his post and I was just hoping it got through him and it did…I didn’t want to hold it and try to wrap it around. I think that would have given him time to get back to the center of the ice.”
Tavares’ teammates were also impressed. “If you were to put odds on it, he would probably be the highest one up there to get that goal,” Matt Martin said. “He’s a clutch player, one of the best in the league.”
Islanders’ head coach Jack Capuano was pleased with his team’s effort. “Today was one of our better games, for sure,” he said. “I thought especially in the second period, we could have been up a few goals…Overall, it was a solid game, a complete game for us, just like we played in Game 1.”
The Nassau Coliseum was very loud as the Islanders opened their final playoff run in The Old Barn.
“If you didn’t feel the crowd,” Boychuk said, “you probably weren’t in the building.”
The series continues with Game 4 Tuesday night at the Nassau Coliseum. With a win there, the Isles could take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
This was the first overtime win for the Isles at the Nassau Coliseum since Ray Ferraro scored in double overtime against Washington in Game 4 of their win over the Capitals back in 1993.
Tavares’ goal was the second fastest overtime goal in Isles playoff history behind J.P. Parise’s series winner in 11 seconds against the Rangers back in 1975.