WASHINGTON — With some fist pumps and a punch of the glass, Washington Capitals rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov celebrated the first playoff goal of his long-thought-promising career.
By the time the 22-year-old Russian netted his second, the crowd’s raucous chants of “We are louder!” were ringing throughout the arena as a bunch of secondary scoring put Washington on the verge of eliminating the New York Islanders.
“Everybody wants to score the goal,” Kuznetsov said. “But if you do the right things, stay in the plan, all the goals, passes and Cups come. One guy never (wins) the Cup. Only (teams) win the Cup.”
Dominating despite zero points from Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals beat the Islanders 5-1 April 23 to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round Eastern Conference series, with goals coming from less-heralded players such as Karl Alzner, Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera.
“That’s playoff time: You’re going to get a goal from someone who hasn’t scored all year,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, exaggerating only slightly.
Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak was yanked with 11 minutes left in the game after allowing five goals on 35 shots.
The Capitals can end the best-of-seven series by winning Game 6 at New York on April 25, in what could be the Islanders’ final appearance at Nassau Coliseum before they move to Brooklyn next season.
“We know what it means to our fans. … It just can’t be the last game for them,” defenseman Thomas Hickey said. “So we’re going to come with our heads on and be ready to play, and make sure that it’s not the last game there. We’ve got to find a way.”
The third period began with Washington ahead only 2-1 but on its first power play of the evening, thanks to Halak’s penalty for tripping Ovechkin.
Washington did not convert on the extra-man opportunity, but Laich scored 42 seconds after it ended. “Huge,” Trotz said. “That got the ball rolling, in terms of momentum and stuff.”
And to think: The Islanders took a 1-0 lead in the first period, but Washington goalie Braden Holtby saved the other 22 shots he faced. Since sitting out Game 2 because he was sick, Holtby has stopped 98 of 102 shots on goal by the Islanders across three games.
At the other end, meanwhile, Halak was repeatedly in trouble, thanks to turnovers by his teammates and a push by the Capitals that Holtby called “relentless.”
When Halak was removed, coach Jack Capuano whispered in his ear. “For whatever reason tonight, the brain wasn’t working. We just turned pucks over and gave it right to them, and they came back the other way,” Capuano said. “I wanted to let him know that it has nothing to do with him.”
As the margin grew, the cries of “Louder!” and “Can you hear us?!” from spectators came in waves, a reference to some back-and-forth among players from both teams over whose arena makes more noise.
“It’s something that you feed off,” Capitals forward Jay Beagle said.
There also was much chatter leading up to Game 5 about whether a big check by Washington’s Tom Wilson on Lubomir Visnovsky in the second period of Game 4 was clean.
Not surprisingly, the Capitals thought it was; the Islanders did not. Visnovsky, who has a history of concussions, did not travel to Washington for the game.
It took less than 5 1/2 minutes for Wilson to find himself in a full-on fistfight with New York’s Anders Lee. The punches put both in the penalty box, left Wilson with a bloody mouth — and appeared to stir the Islanders.
All of 26 seconds later, the visitors led 1-0 on Josh Bailey’s shot into the upper corner of Holtby’s net from the edge of the left circle off an assist from captain John Tavares.
At about the nine-minute mark, though, Washington tied it on Kuznetsov’s first career playoff point. Marcus Johansson’s shot wound up in the air and Kuznetsov swatted it in from beside the crease with what looked very much like a tennis backhand.
“You can see when he’s on his game, he controls the puck so well,” Ovechkin said about his countryman. “Obviously he’s a great passer. Today he was a scorer.
(HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Sports Writer)