As the Washington Capitals prepare to meet the New York Islanders in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s time to examine the playoff history between the Capitals and the Islanders. In traveling down memory lane, long time Caps fans will recall there was once a team their fanbase collectively disliked even more than the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The two teams have previously met seven times in the postseason, with five consecutive meetings throughout the 1980’s, one very infamous meeting in the 1990’s, and one meeting in 2015. The Caps have won just two of the series against the Islanders.
1983 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The first playoff meeting between the Caps and the Islanders took place in 1983 in the Patrick Division Semifinals; i.e. Round 1 of the playoffs. This playoff series was the first playoff series in which the Caps ever played.
During the regular season, the Capitals amassed a record of 39-25-16 with 94 standings points and finished third in the Patrick Division. Meanwhile the Islanders had a record of 42-26-12 and 96 standings points and finished second in the Patrick Division. They were also the three-time defending Stanley Cup Champions.
The Islanders opened the series by beating the Caps 5-2. The score was tied 1-1 but the Islanders scored three goals in the second period. The Caps came back to even the series by winning the second game 4-2. The Islanders came into the Capital Centre and won both Games 3 and Game 4, winning the first 6-2 and the second 6-3.
The Islanders went on to beat the New York Rangers in the Patrick Division Finals in 6 games, the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals in 6 games and swept the Edmonton Oilers in four games in the Stanley Cup Finals. This was the Islanders’ fourth consecutive Stanley Cup win.
1984 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The two teams met again the following season (1984), this time in the Patrick Division Finals; i.e. the second round of the playoffs. During the regular season, the Capitals had a record of 48-27-5 with 101 standings points and finished second in the Patrick Division. The Islanders, meanwhile, had a record of 50-26-4 and 104 standings points and finished first in the Patrick Division. The Islanders were aiming for the fifth consecutive Stanley Cup Championship.
Prior to this second round matchup, the Caps had swept the Flyers in the first round while the Islanders had beaten the Rangers in a tough 5 game series. The Caps started off by winning the first game 3-2. But after that, it was all Islanders. In Game 2, the Islanders won 5-4 in Overtime. They won Game 3 by a 3-1 score, Game 4 by a 5-2 score, and Game 5, 5-3.
After beating the Caps in the Patrick Division Finals, they played the Montreal Canadiens in the Conference Finals and beat them in 6 games. They lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup final in a series that lasted five games.
1985 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The two teams met again for the third consecutive season, and like their first meeting in 1983, once again met in the Patrick Division Semifinals (Round 1). During the regular season, the Capitals had a record of 46-25-9 with 101 standings points and finished second in the Patrick Division. The Islanders, meanwhile, had a record of 40-34-6 and 86 standings points and finished third in the Patrick Division. They were aiming for the sixth consecutive appearance in Stanley Cup Finals.
With the home ice advantage, the Caps won the first game 4-3 in Overtime, with Alan Haworth getting the game winning goal. The scoring also featured two power play goals by Larry Murphy.
The Caps continued their winning ways in game 2, this time, winning in double Overtime, when Mike Gartner scored the game winner, breaking a 1-1 tie, and winning 2-1. The Caps were now up 2 games to none.
But that would be their last win. They traveled to New York and dropped a 2-1 decision in Game 3 and fell 6-4 in Game 4 in a game where the Caps led 4-2 after the second period and the Islanders scored FOUR third period goals.
The Caps returned home and dropped a 2-1 decision and the Islanders took the series. No team had ever come back from a 2-0 series deficit in a best of five series until the Islanders did it in 1985. It was particularly frustrating since the Caps had a better regular season by far and also were up two goals after two periods in Game 4.
The Islanders went on to the Patrick Division Finals to play the Philadelphia Flyers and lost that series in five games. The Islanders five-year streak of making it at least to the Stanley Cup Finals had ended.
1986 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Another year, another matchup between the Caps and Islanders, for the fourth consecutive year and their second consecutive meeting in the Patrick Division Semifinals (Round 1). During the regular season, the Capitals had a record of 50-23-7 with 107 standings points and finished second in the Patrick Division. The Islanders, meanwhile, had a record of 39-29-12 and 90 standings points and finished third in the Patrick Division.
This time, the Caps did not follow the same script as they did in their prior meetings. They won Game 1 at home by a 3-1 score. They were tied 1-1 after one period but then Bobby Carpenter and Dave Christian scored goals.
Game 2 started off similarly to Game 1 in that Gaetan Duchesne scored and the game was tied 1-1 after the first period. The Caps scored two goals during the second period and also scored twice in third period, on goals by Bobby Gould. The final score was 5-2 So, once again the Caps had a 2-0 series lead and proceeded to Nassau to play Game 3.
The Caps opened up a 3-0 lead after two periods thanks to three power play goals. On this day, the Islanders could not stay out of the penalty box. The game featured three fights and numerous minor penalties. The Caps ended up winning that game 3-1 and finally had beaten the New York Islanders in a playoff series.
They moved on to play the New York Rangers who had finished in fourth place in the Patrick Division and had upset the first place Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. The Rangers pulled off another upset against the Caps as they won the Patrick Division Finals in six games.
1987 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Another year, another matchup between the Caps and Islanders, for the fifth consecutive season and their third consecutive meeting in the Patrick Division Semifinals (Round 1). During the regular season, the Capitals had a record of 38-32-10 with 86 standings points and finished second in the Patrick Division. The Islanders, meanwhile, had a record of 33-35-12 and 82 standings points and finished third in the Patrick Division.
This season was the first season where the first round would be best of seven series rather than best of five, as it had been for the last several years.
The Caps opened at home and won Game 1 by a 4-3 score. But dropped Game 2 by a 3-1 score. They traveled to Nassau Coliseum and won each of the next two games, winning Game 3 by a 2-0 score and winning Game 4 by a 4-1 score, in a game where the Caps initially trailed 1-0 but got four unanswered goals.
The Caps had now opened up a commanding 3 games to 1 series edge and the schedule included two more home games which should have resulted in a favorable outcome. But as any fan of the St. Louis Cardinals who remembers the 1968 and 1985 World Series results or any Baltimore Orioles fan who remembers the 1979 World Series result would tell you, that does not always work out.
The Caps returned home to Landover and dropped Game 5 by a 4-2 score. They fell behind 2-0 in the first period but tied it up just past the midway point of second period. But the Islanders soon pulled ahead and the added a late insurance goal.
Game 6 returned to Nassau. The Islanders once again got off to a 2-0 lead, with the Caps tying it in second period and then pulled ahead. But the Islanders got three unanswered goals to pull ahead 5-3. While the Caps added another goal during third period, it was too little too late and the Caps lost 5-4.
This set up the climatic seventh game in Landover. Mike Gartner scored late in the first period to stake the Caps to a 1-0 lead. But the Islanders tied it midway through the second period. The Caps scored late in the second period to put the Caps ahead again 2-1. But Bryan Trottier tied it up with just over five minutes left in the third period. The score was tied at 2-2.
The game went into Overtime, then Double Overtime, then Triple Overtime, and finally to a fourth Overtime period. Pat LaFontaine score the game winner for the Islanders to win the game and the series for the Islanders. The game itself was forever more known as the Easter Epic. This set an unfortunate precedent for the Caps in the blowing of 3-1 series edges to lose series.
The Islanders moved on and went on to lose a seven game series to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Patrick Division Finals.
1993 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The two teams met again six years later, once again in the Patrick Division Semi-Finals; i.e. the first round of the playoffs. During the regular season, the Capitals had a record of 43-34-7 with 93 standings points and finished second in the Patrick Division. The Islanders, meanwhile, had a record of 40-37-7 and 87 standings points and finished third in the Patrick Division.
The Caps had the home ice advantage once again in this series. They won the first game. The Islanders scored in the first period. But the Caps had three unanswered goals during third period, including two by Dale Hunter, and won the game 3-1.
Game 2 was a 5-4 loss in double Overtime. The game followed the pattern of the Islanders would score and Caps would eventually tie it up. This continued until the end of the third period when Dale Hunter tied the game with three seconds left. Unfortunately, that goal proved to be a Zelapukin (a term that the “Down Goes Brown” column had used to describe game tying goals for games eventually lost in Overtime.) The game proceeded to Overtime and then double Overtime when Brian Mullen scored the game winner for the Isles to even up the series at one game apiece.
The teams traveled to Nassau for Games 3 and 4. The results were similar as in Game 2. The Isles won Game 3 in Overtime with a score of 4-3. In that game, the Caps lead 3-1 during the third period but the Islanders scored two unanswered goals to tie the game and won in Overtime.
Game 4 was a penalty fest, featuring numerous minor penalties, especially during first period. The Caps got off to a 3-0 lead before the second period was a third of the way through. But the Islanders ultimately tied it throughout the second and the third. The game proceeded to Overtime and then double Overtime. Ray Ferraro, who had scored the game winning goal in Overtime in Game 3, did it again in Game 4. Thus, the Caps were down 3 games to 1 in the series thanks to three consecutive Overtime losses.
The Caps struck back in Game 5 and got off to a 5-1 lead before the third period was half over. But the Islanders scored three goals of their own, all by Ray Ferraro who had four goals for the game, to close the gap to 5-4. Dale Hunter scored an insurance, empty net goal, to close out the game, with the final score being 6-4.
In Game 6, Dale Hunter started off the scoring half way through first period for the Caps. But the Isles scored five unanswered goals after that, including a short-handed goal, climaxing with a goal by Pierre Turgeon just over half way through the period. Dale Hunter had tried to pass but it got intercepted by Turgeon who scored. A frustrated Hunter leveled Turgeon and checked him into the glass. A fight ensued and Hunter was ejected from the game and assessed with a major penalty. The final score was 6-3 and the Caps were eliminated from the playoffs, once again.
Dale Hunter was suspended for 26 games to begin the 1993-94 season. That was another extremely frustrating series for the Caps where they lost three consecutive games in Overtime and the player who had been their best player throughout the series, ended up getting a VERY long suspension due to the accumulated frustration.
The Islanders went on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Patrick Division Finals and beat them in a 7 game series. The Islanders then advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals and lost to the Montreal Canadiens in 5 games.
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2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs
After the continual drama of the 1980’s and the infamous series of 1993 with its own drama, a generation passed before the Islanders and the Capitals met in the Stanley Cup playoffs again.
But in 2015, they finally had a rematch. During the regular season, the Capitals had a record of 45-26-11-10 with 101 standings points and finished second in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders, meanwhile, had a record of 47-28-7 and 101 standings points and finished third in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders and Caps had the same number of points. The Caps were considered higher in the standings due to tie breakers.
The series started at Verizon Center. The Islanders won Game 1 on a day where Braden Holtby was not really feeling well. Brock Nelson had two goals for the Isles. Hence, Holtby did not play in Game 2 and backup goalie, Philipp Grubauer, who had been brought up from the minors before the end of the regular season, started in goal in Holtby’s place. The Islanders got the first two goals of the game, with one goal in first period and one early in second period. The Caps and Isles traded goals in second period so the score was 3-2 in the Isles favor after two periods. The Caps scored two unanswered goals during third period to pull out a 4-3 win.
The two teams traveled to Nassau for Games 3 and 4. Holtby returned to the crease for both games. Game 3 was tied at 1-1 so it went into Overtime where, just 15 seconds in to Overtime, John Tavares scored the game winner.
Game 4 was another 2-1 game, except this time it was the Caps who won in Overtime instead of the Islanders, with Nicklas Backstrom scoring the game winner.
Photo Credit: Washington Post
Game 5 was a return to Washington and a 5-1 win for the Caps and featured two goals by Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Caps were unable to close out the Islanders in Game 6 as they fell 3-1. So, it was another return to Verizon Center for Game 7.
In this game, Joel Ward scored the first goal near the end of second period for the Caps. But the Isles tied it early in third period. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored when the period was half over. That lead held up and the Caps won 2-1, won the series, and moved on to Round 2 where they lost a seven game series to the New York Rangers, a series where they had held a three game to one series edge.
Thus, there has been a very long history of the teams in their upcoming playoff matchup.
By Diane Doyle