ELMONT, N.Y. — The crowd at UBS Arena had fallen into stunned silence, which only amplified the cheers emanating from Suite 36 on Saturday night. That’s where a group of the Washington Capitals’ fathers and mentors had gathered for their annual trip with the team ahead of a crucial matchup with the New York Islanders, and after T.J. Oshie scored the go-ahead goal late in the first period, some of them hollered and climbed out of their seats to give one another fist bumps.
With their playoff chances teetering, the Capitals seemed energized by the presence of their loved ones during a resounding 5-1 win — and nearly every one of their elders had something to celebrate. That included after Oshie’s goal, which followed surgical passing in the offensive zone, from Sonny Milano to Trevor van Riemsdyk to Rasmus Sandin, who neatly fed the puck from the left circle to the front of the crease for Oshie to shovel it into the open net.
“It was easy to get up for this one,” Oshie said.
Washington was aggressive throughout but especially in the first 40 minutes, when it doled out 20 hits and blocked 14 shot attempts in front of goaltender Darcy Kuemper (17 saves). The Capitals also killed five penalties and, on the other of the ice, ended up outshooting the Islanders 27-18 in their most complete performance in weeks to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive with 15 games to go.
“It was probably the most complete game, where everybody was pitching in, everyone was pulling on the rope,” Oshie said. “You never know what can happen. We’re going to battle back.”
With Sandin’s father, Patric, in attendance after traveling from Sweden, the 23-year-old defenseman continued to look like a significant acquisition, finishing with three primary assists. He flashed on the top defense pairing, quarterbacked the power play and, after the Islanders had taken a 1-0 lead on a Pierre Engvall goal at 5:18 of the first period, used a slick backhand pass from the boards to set up a Dylan Strome goal at 6:41. In the final minute of the period, he fed Oshie, which gave Sandin his third multi-point game since he was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 28. He has eight points (one goal, seven assists) in his first four games with Washington.
Also in attendance Saturday night was Anthony Mantha’s father, Daniel Pronovost, who wore his son’s custom letterman jacket that he received before a game earlier this season. He watched as his son prowled on the power play early in the third period, looking to break a 19-game goal drought. Across from Mantha was Alex Ovechkin, who took a pass at the doorstep and tried to chip a shot over the pad of Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov (22 saves) before collecting his own rebound and nudging the puck to Mantha, who scored at 4:15. Mantha shook both fists and seemed to offer a sigh of relief after scoring for the first time since New Year’s Eve.
“I think a lot of times offense can generate confidence inside of a player,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said. “So it’s good to get some guys on the board and see if that pushes them forward.”
New York had outscored its opponents 17-1 in the third period over its previous 10 games, but the Islanders were stymied by Kuemper at every turn Saturday. The Capitals remained relentless in the final minutes. Nic Dowd scored on a snipe after a turnover at 12:18 of the third, and fellow center Nicklas Backstrom deflected a Sandin point shot past Varlamov at 13:19.
That sent the home crowd for the exits, but the party in Suite 36 was just getting started. Some of the fathers grabbed their beers and headed down to wait for their Capitals to come off the ice. As the players and their mentors filed into the dressing room to celebrate, Dowd stopped to greet his brother, Josh, and his father, Alan. He joked that he was going to call security, then burst into laughter.
“Good job, Pops!” he yelled before giving his father a hug.
Here’s what else to know about the Capitals’ win:
Extension for van Riemsdyk
The Capitals continued to solidify their defense for next season by giving van Riemsdyk a three-year contract extension worth $3 million annually. Washington now has four blue-liners under contract for next season; van Riemsdyk joins John Carlson, Sandin and Nick Jensen, who signed an extension late last month. Fellow defenders Alexander Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary are set to be restricted free agents.
Jensen, Fehervary return
Washington’s defense received a boost with the returns of Jensen and Fehervary after they missed the previous three games. Washington had relied heavily on call-ups in their absence, including Gabriel Carlsson, who was a healthy scratch Saturday, and Vincent Iorio, who was sent back to the team’s American League Hockey affiliate in Hershey, Pa.
The returns of Jensen and Fehervary brought stability to the back end and lightened the load — especially for Sandin and van Riemsdyk, who logged heavy minutes in the previous three games.
“He’s been helping me a lot since first game, since first practice,” Sandin said of van Riemsdyk. “We’re just having a lot of fun out there.”