Not much has gone according to plan in 2020, but the NHL playoffs are bringing at least one slice of normalcy: An Eastern Conference series between the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders.
The Metropolitan Division rivals and frequent playoff combatants will once again meet in the postseason beginning Wednesday afternoon, when the Capitals and Islanders face off in Game 1 of the quarterfinals in Toronto.
The Capitals, who led the Metropolitan and had the third-best record in the East when the regular season ended March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be the third seed after going 1-1-1 in round-robin play last week.
The Islanders, who were in seventh place in the East when play stopped, are the sixth seed after beating the Florida Panthers, three games to one, in the preliminary round.
The series marks the eighth time the Islanders and Capitals have opposed each other in the playoffs. The only other team the Islanders have faced as often in the playoffs is the New York Rangers. The only teams the Capitals have opposed more in the postseason are the Pittsburgh Penguins (11 series) and Rangers (nine).
Washington has won just two series against the Islanders but was victorious in the most recent matchup between the teams in the spring of 2015, when the Capitals earned a heated seven-game win in the conference quarterfinals.
The Islanders have nine players left from that team while the Capitals have six — including right winger Tom Wilson, who delivered the most controversial hit of the series by leveling New York defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky behind the net in Game 4. Visnovsky suffered a concussion and never played in the NHL again.
Adding to the layers of familiarity and intrigue: Islanders head coach Barry Trotz directed the Capitals to the franchise’s lone Stanley Cup in the spring of 2018 but resigned June 18 — 11 days after the Cup-clinching victory — because he and the team couldn’t come to terms on a renegotiated contract. He was replaced by assistant coach Todd Reirden, who remains Washington’s head coach.
Trotz, who coached 2017-18 as a lame duck but had a two-year extension triggered by the Cup victory, was named the Islanders’ head coach three days after he left the Capitals.
“It’s not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden or any of those type of things,” Reirden said. “It’s going to be a team effort.”
On Nov. 26, 2018, Trotz and assistant coaches Mitch Korn and Lane Lambert, each of whom accompanied him from Washington to New York, received their Stanley Cup rings prior to an Islanders-Capitals game in Brooklyn. Trotz told the Capitals they could win the Cup again but they’d “…have to go through the (expletive) Island.”
And now they do, albeit via a Toronto detour.
“They’ve got a lot of star power and they’ve won a championship,” Trotz said. “They’re well-equipped in a lot of areas, so the biggest challenge is to play them even and play them hard. And they’ll do the same, because I know a lot about that group.”
The teams split four regular season meetings.
Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who was hurt in Game 1 against the Panthers on Aug. 1, is expected to return Wednesday.
Capitals defenseman John Carlson, who sat out the round robin with an injury suffered in an exhibition against the Carolina Hurricanes on July 29, practiced Monday. Center Lars Eller’s availability is unknown as he quarantines and awaits coronavirus test results after going home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
–Field Level Media