The New York Islanders played their emotional card last night, sending goaltender Bill Smith out to face the Washington Capitals, a team he has bedeviled for the last three postseasons. It turned out to be a losing long shot.
Smith was the victim of long shots by Greg Smith and Scott Stevens, then two third-period goals by Bob Gould wrapped things up as the Capitals prevailed, 5-2, before 18,130 at Capital Centre.
The best-of-five Patrick Division semifinal series will shift to Nassau Coliseum Saturday, with New York gaining some solace from both history and the prospect of more favorable line matchups.
The Capitals took a 2-0 lead to Long Island a year ago and became the first NHL team ever to lose a five-game series after winning the first two games. New York is hoping for a repeat; Washington cites confidence and goaltender Pete Peeters as reasons it will not happen again.
"This is a rerun of an old movie I've seen before," said Islanders Coach Al Arbour. "I hope the movie has the same ending. We know the position we're in and we know what it takes. There's not much margin for error, but once we get home and get a few breaks, we'll be all right."
Washington Coach Bryan Murray thinks Arbour's movie has a similar plot, with some obvious changes in script.
"Last year, the first two games were real struggles [both in overtime]," Murray said. "They could have gone either way. But we played with more confidence tonight and Pete Peeters [27 saves] was outstanding. History is something we learn from and gain experience from. I hope we handle things differently this time."
If the Islanders got no lift from Smith, their longtime playoff hero, they did have a couple of uplifting moments, scoring tying goals late in both the first and second periods.
But nine seconds after Bryan Trottier created a 2-2 deadlock, Scott Stevens fired a 55-footer past Smith to send Washington into the second intermission with a 3-2 lead.
Stevens used defenseman Randy Boyd as a screen to unload a shot that left Smith indecisive whether to use stick or glove as it flew past his left arm.
"I saw Boyd put his stick up and I tried to put it by his shin pad and use him as a screen," Stevens said. "It always hurts to be scored on in that situation. They'd worked so long to tie the score and here we come right back and go ahead. That had to leave them wondering what they had to do."
"A goal late in the period like that always sets you back," Arbour said. "You score, then they come right back and take the steam out of you. It hurts, especially going into the dressing room."
The Islanders were hurt again almost as soon as they stepped back on the ice, Gould scoring the first of his two goals just 58 seconds into the third period.
Smith blocked a shot by Steve Leach, but before he could cover up, he and the puck were knocked into the net, along with Gould, by Boyd.
As Smith rose, he charged toward referee Ron Wicks to complain, and Arbour stood on the bench the better to express his objections. But Boyd's role was so obvious that Wicks ignored them.
"All I know is that I saw Steve Leach getting ready to shoot and I went to the net in case of a rebound," Gould said. "The puck kind of sat there and then Randy Boyd pushed me in. I saw the puck go in, but I don't know how it got there. I didn't feel anything hit me besides Boyd."
Two goals down, the Islanders were unable to mount much of a comeback, as the younger Capitals such as Stevens, Larry Murphy and Gaetan Duchesne dominated the play. Duchesne once again kept Bossy off the scoreboard, although the Islanders' great right wing assisted on both of his team's goals.
"The building was hot and both teams had worked very hard both games," Murray said. "Big, strong, well-conditioned guys have an advantage in that situation and we all know Scott Stevens can go all night."
"I'm used to playing 30 minutes a game, and I don't think about weariness," Stevens said. "I was relaxed tonight. I think the whole team was. When the playoffs come, you have to take care of yourself and get your rest and, if you're in good condition, you actually feel better the more ice time you get."
The Islanders pulled Smith for a sixth skater with 1:07 remaining in regulation time, but the Capitals' forechecking prevented them from applying much pressure and Gould wrapped things up into an empty net with his 10th Stanley Cup goal.
Duchesne, who assisted on Gould's finale, opened the scoring himself in the first period, just as he had in the Capitals' 3-1 victory Wednesday.
Stevens crossed the New York blueline, exchanged passes with Duchesne and fired a shot that Smith batted into the air with his glove. As it dropped below shoulder level, where the puck can be legally struck, Duchesne swatted it past the goalie with a midair deflection.
"I was ready to shoot, but the defenseman challenged me, so I gave it back to Scott," Duchesne said. "I don't think he got everything on the shot, but the puck went right in the air and I followed it. I waited till it came down and I knocked it in. If the Baltimore Orioles need a pinch hitter, I'm open to offers."
Pat LaFontaine tied it on a power play with 12 seconds left in the period. Bossy shoved the puck in front from behind the goal line and LaFontaine flubbed his first attempt. But the puck dribbled into Brent Sutter's skates and LaFontaine got it back, giving Peeters a head fake and beating him on the stick side.
That was only the fourth extra-man goal for the Islanders in 34 attempts against Washington this season.
Greg Smith's first goal as a Capital broke the tie early in the second period. He beat namesake Bill on the glove side from the right point after Alan Haworth dug the puck out of the left-wing corner and passed out to Stevens, who relayed it to his defense partner.
The Capitals had numerous chances to pad their margin in the second period, but Bill Smith made some excellent stops, especially on point-blank tries by Haworth and Duchesne, who started to raise his stick in triumph.
"Dave Christian made a good pass and the puck was almost in," Duchesne said. "I started to raise it, but . . . "
Before that happened, however, Trottier converted Richard Kromm's pass out of the left-wing corner to give the Islanders nine seconds of satisfaction.