WASHINGTON (AP) — Shaking their heads in the aftermath of a baffling defeat to a team out of contention, New York Islanders players lacked the answers to explain the inexplicable.
What captain Anders Lee called a “horrible” start led to two goals in 63 seconds and another before the end of the first period, and the Islanders couldn’t climb out of the hole they dug. The result was a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday night that deals a significant blow to their playoff chances, which they no longer control with one game left to play.
“That is disappointing when you’re in a spot where you win a couple and you’re in,” veteran winger Zach Parise said. “Now we need help, so hopefully we get it.”
New York trails Florida by one point in the standings after the Panthers lost in overtime to Toronto on a goal by former Islanders captain John Tavares. Pittsburgh is one point back but has two games left against the two worst teams in the NHL, Tuesday against Chicago and Thursday at Columbus, while the Panthers have one remaining.
Ilya Sorokin allowed goals to Dylan Strome, Rasmus Sandin and Craig Smith on the first nine shots he faced before settling in, but the Vezina Trophy candidate for the league’s top goaltender was far from the biggest problem for the Islanders and settled in to make 20 saves. Skaters in front of him lost Strome on his first goal and turned the puck over several times to give the Capitals quality scoring chances.
“It’s tough to explain,” coach Lane Lambert said. “We made some mistakes right off the hop. We made some mistakes, we gave it to them, we lost a faceoff, they scored. Tripped over our own stick. Some errors were made.”
Washington was in a giving mood, too, playing out the string after an eight-year playoff streak came to an end, but Darcy Kuemper repeatedly turned aside shots from point-blank range after some inexplicable turnovers. He allowed late goals to Hudson Fasching and Casey Cizikas in the final six minutes and finished with 38 saves.
“I thought their goalie played really well,” Cizikas said. “He made some big saves, and (Sorokin) did an unbelievable job of keeping that game in reach for us to at least give us a chance to maybe have a push or a comeback. Tough, though.”
Despite missing Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie and playing a skater short with 17 for a third consecutive game, the Capitals snapped their losing streak at six and handed New York a third loss in the past five. Strome and Tom Wilson each scored an empty-netter, with Strome setting a career high with 23 goals.
“You saw a lot of character,” Kuemper said. “We’re not going to roll over. We’re going to play hard.”
The Islanders played hard, and Parise took issue with the concept of he and his teammates lacking urgency. But forward Brock Nelson said there was probably not enough intensity at the start, and it put them in a difficult spot that’s even more precarious now heading into the final game of the season.
“We just got to make sure we’re ready,” Cizikas said. “We have to know what’s at stake, and we have to know what we’re playing for.
Islanders: Host the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press