WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom helped make a winner of a rookie replacement goalie making his second start all season for the Washington Capitals.
Reunited on Washington’s top line, Backstrom delivered a goal and two assists, and Ovechkin scored once, leading the Capitals and fill-in goalie Philipp Grubauer to a 4-3 comeback victory over the New York Islanders on Friday night that evened the first-round playoff series at a game apiece.
After Washington’s two stars — Ovechkin led the NHL in goals, Backstrom was No. 1 in assists — both scored to erase a 3-1 deficit, Jason Chimera netted the go-ahead goal with 12 1/2 minutes left.
Chimera, who was whistled for penalties at the 20-minute mark of the second and third periods in the Capitals’ 4-1 Game 1 loss Wednesday, sent a wrister past Jaroslav Halak to give the hosts their first lead of the series. Chimera’s initial shot was blocked, but the puck came right back to him, and he didn’t miss on the second chance.
The series shifts to New York for Game 3 on Sunday, and Game 4 on Tuesday. The Islanders are playing their last season at Nassau Coliseum, their home since 1972, and will move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season.
Grubauer was called up from the minors Friday to replace starting goalie Braden Holtby, who was ill. Grubauer, a 23-year-old from Germany, made 18 saves, settling down after giving up goals to Cal Clutterbuck, Ryan Strome and Kyle Okposo.
As they vowed, the Capitals came out far more active and aggressive Friday than in Wednesday’s flat Game 1, maintaining possession for significant stretches. The problem? While Washington managed to take shot after shot after shot — 31 times in all, they sent the puck in the general direction of the net in the first period — very few were on-target.
A major part of that was the Islanders’ doing: They blocked 15 shots in the first period, when the Capitals were credited with zero.
Clutterbuck, meanwhile, breezed through the neutral zone, and sent a wrister past Grubauer less than 5 1/2 minutes into the game on New York’s second shot. The Islanders went ahead 2-0 slightly under 3 1/2 minutes into the second period, when captain John Tavares set up his buddy Strome for a wrister from the slot.
But the Capitals’ near-constant pressure finally paid off with 8 1/2 minutes left in the second. Islanders left wing Matt Martin lost his stick, and the Capitals passed the puck around, looking as if they were on a power play. With the crowd roaring its approval as the possession continued, defenceman Mike Green slid the puck across the ice to Karl Alzner, who beat Halak on the glove side.
After New York restored a two-goal lead, Washington again took advantage of an Islanders player’s broken stick — Okposo, this time. Backstrom passed to Matt Niskanen, whose shot went off Halak’s pads and to Ovechkin. The three-time NHL MVP poked the puck in from beside the crease.
Ovechkin did a high leg kick to celebrate his first point of these playoffs.
The Capitals led the league in power-play percentage each of the past three seasons, and on their first opportunity of the game — third of the series — Backstrom converted, making it 3-all with a little more than 16 minutes remaining.
After Chimera put the Capitals in front, Grubauer made the lead stand up, hearing plenty of chants of “Groob!” from the fans.
NOTES: Ovechkin’s goal was the 32nd of his career in the playoffs, a team record. … Capitals RW Tom Wilson returned to the lineup after missing the last two regular-season games and Game 1 against New York with a concussion. … With Wilson back, C Michael Latta was a healthy scratch. … Islanders D Travis Hamonic missed his third game in a row with an injury.
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Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press
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