UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) — Capitals goalie Braden Holtby wasn’t sure what felt worse: Sitting out a playoff game because of an illness, or watching the Capitals fall behind the New York Islanders by two goals before rallying for a victory.
“It wasn’t fun. A lot less stressful playing than it is watching, that’s for sure,” Holtby said after returning to practice Saturday. “It’s something I don’t want to really experience again.”
There’s a good chance he won’t.
The Capitals’ workhorse declared himself ready to return Sunday, when the first-round playoff series shifts to Long Island after the teams split the first two games.
Holtby, already feeling the effects of the illness before Game 1, gave up three goals on 26 shots in 4-1 loss on Wednesday. Minor-league call-up Philipp Grubauer stopped 18 shots, and Washington scored the final three goals of a 4-3 win Friday night.
“Playing or not playing, the way won, the way we battled, it was exciting to be part of our team,” said Holtby, who matched a franchise record with 41 wins last season.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz wasn’t prepared to commit to Holtby starting Sunday. But he did acknowledge that the goalie looked fine during a brief practice.
The Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals responded from a listless performance in the opener, by regaining their puck-possession presence over the final two periods Friday. They outshot the Islanders 30-14 over the final 40 minutes, and secured the win early in the third period when Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Chimera scored 3:51 apart.
Now it’s the Islanders’ turn to regroup and regain their speedy, fore-checking style that flustered the Capitals on Wednesday.
“We were a little too passive and, as I told our guys, our identity hasn’t been that all year,” New York coach Jack Capuano said. “We’re not a team that plays safe or sits back.”
Here’s a look at the four NHL playoff games Sunday (all times EDT):
Capitals at Islanders, tied 1-1, Game 3, noon, NBC
BAD BREAKS: Two broken Islanders sticks — one by Matt Martin and the other Kyle Okposo — resulted in the Capitals scoring both second-period goals. “Obviously, it’s frustrating,” Okposo said, whose broken stick led to Ovechkin cutting the lead to 3-2. Just don’t expect him to trade in his composite fiber stick for an old wooden one. “Not a chance,” Okposo said.
The Islanders squandered two-goal leads in losses six times this regular season, tied for second-most in the NHL, according to STATS.
Predators at Blackhawks, tied 1-1, Game 3, 3 p.m., NBC
GOALIE SHUFFLE: Patrick Kane has confidence no matter who’s playing in goal for the Blackhawks. “Whoever’s in net we’ll support and try to give our best effort for,” Kane said. That’s good, because it’s going to be Scott Darling’s crease to start Game 3. Coach Joel Quenneville is turning to Darling for a second time this postseason after starter Corey Crawford gave up six goals on 35 shots in a 6-2 loss at Nashville on Friday. Crawford was yanked in Game 1 after allowing three goals on 12 shots, and replaced by Darling, who stopped 42 shots in a 4-3 double overtime victory.
NASHVILLE’S DEFENSE: The Predators’ win proved costly. Captain and star defenseman Shea Weber did not make the trip to Chicago because of a lower-body injury suffered in the second period. Though the Predators have plenty of defensive depth, they’ll find difficulty replacing the hard-shooting and big-hitting Weber, who averages more than 26 minutes of playing time per game. Second-year player Seth Jones will likely move up to the top pairing with Roman Josi. Victor Bartley or Anton Volchenkov are candidates to step into the lineup.
Canadiens at Senators, Montreal leads 2-0, Game 3, 7 p.m., NBCSN
IN THE CLUTCH: The series shifts to Ottawa, where the Canadiens lost both times in a five-game series loss to Ottawa in 2013. This time, Montreal is coming off two home wins after Alex Galchenyuk scored 3:40 into overtime to secure a 3-2 victory on Friday. The 21-year-old Galchenyuk, who also scored in overtime against the Rangers last year, became the second-youngest Montreal player to have two OT goals. Claude Lemieux was still 20 when he scored his second in May 1986.
NO STONE HANDS: Senators rookie Mark Stone continues to produce despite a wrist injury. He set up both Senators goals in a 3-2 loss Friday, despite playing with an injured right wrist. Stone sustained a microfracture and ligament damage after being slashed by Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban in Game 1. “It was up to me, really,” Stone said, referring to the decision to play. “I’m playing through a little bit of pain, but at this time of year, a lot of guys are.”
Canucks at Flames, tied 1-1, Game 3, 10 p.m., NBCSN
ONE DROUGHT ENDS: The Canucks’ 4-1 win at Vancouver on Friday snapped their seven-game home playoff losing skid, dating to a 4-0 loss to Boston in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. Now the Canucks hit the road, where they’re 1-6 in their past seven during the playoffs.
MESSAGE SENT? Down 4-1 on the scoreboard, the Flames attempted to set the tone for Game 3 with a major melee in the final minutes that resulted in 132 penalty minutes being issued. “It’s just guys on edge,” Flames forward Matt Stajan said. “I don’t think any of us are going to back down. Neither team is. You play scrappy. We’ve got to battle back.” The fight proved costly for Calgary coach Bob Hartley. The NHL ruled Hartley bore a share of responsibility for the brawl, and fined him $50,000.
AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker, Howard Fendrich and freelance writer Matt Carlson contributed.
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