For most of the night, the New York Islanders’ tenacious forecheck was all for naught.
But Brock Nelson changed that late in the third period with a timely goal. The strike with 6:55 to go sealed a 1-0 blanking over the Washington Capitals at Nassau Coliseum. For the game’s lone goal, it is the obvious turning point in this Islanders victory.
This was a game, aside from a chunk in the second period, that the Islanders dominated possession and the shot share, and by game’s end, the Islanders led in 25-12 in high danger chances and were at 3.93 in terms of expected goals.
But the game isn’t played theoretically, and the Islanders had been stymied by Washington netminder Vitek Vanecek for the first 53 minutes and change.
“I liked the way we managed the puck and how we controlled it in the offensive zone,” Barry Trotz said. “I like the way we defended. Washington doesn’t need a lot of chances to capitalize. … I thought we managed it pretty good.”
“I thought their goaltender played extremely well. We had a lot of chances to pull away and we didn’t. It was a hell of a hockey game.”
The Islanders threw everything they had at the Capitals in the third and finally broke through in the waning minutes. And it all started with a heads-up play from Anthony Beauvillier.
🤩 Another look at Brock's GWG! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/xs9tomDQ2r
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 7, 2021
The winger charged into the offensive zone against three Washington skaters and flung the puck off the end boards and kept the puck in deep. Washington couldn’t clear it out as Ryan Pulock corralled the puck at the blue line.
Though he doesn’t have a goal yet this year, Pulock put a chance on net that gave Josh Bailey or Nelson a chance to finish. Sure enough, it was Nelson who pushed in the rebound under Vanecek’s pads for the game-winner. That gives Nelson, who has three points in his last two games against Washington, two deciding goals this year.
“Barry came in after the second and said we did some good things, had some chances,” Nelson said. “Just wanted to stick with it and elevate the game a little bit more. And I thought we were able to do that. And we had quite a few good looks and weren’t able to capitalize going into the third.”
Things the last month and a half have turned around for Nelson as well. After a slower start to the season, Nelson had a strong March with 10 points (six goals four assists) and he’s already keeping pace in April with three points in as many games. And he’s now one of the nine Islanders who’ve recorded over 100 high danger chances for at 5-on-5 play this season, per Natural Stat Trick.
“It was a nice play by [Pulock] to hold the line and kind of create some offense there before they were maybe set up in the D zone,” Nelson said. “I was able to find the puck with some space and get it in.”
Nelson had started off almost exclusively scoring on the power play, but he now has more goals at even strength than the man advantage (eight to six, respectively).
That’s the goal scoring touch the Islanders need as they battle for the top spot in the division with the Capitals. After going winless in Washington to start the year, they’ve beaten the Capitals in two straight at Nassau Coliseum. Timely goals like Nelson’s could be the deciding factor in who wins the East when it’s all said and done.