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Islanders force Game 7 with 3-1 victory

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Islanders force Game 7 with 3-1 victory

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Instant analysis of the Capitals’ 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday in front of a raucous sellout crowd at Nassau Coliseum:  

How it happened: With 9:27 remaining in regulation and the Islanders buzzing inside the Capital’ defensive zone, Isles captain John Tavares was railroaded by Alex Ovechkin in the right corner. But while Tavares slowly got to his knees and the crowd howled in anger, Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy scooped up the puck and fed Nikolay Kulemin in the slot. Kulemin faked right and beat Braden Holtby with a forehand to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead. The Caps pulled Holtby for an extra attacker with 1:31 to play, but Cal Clutterbuck scored into an empty net with 52.6 seconds remaining to send the crowd into a frenzy with chants of “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

What it means: The Capitals and Islanders will return for Game 7 on Monday night at Verizon Center. The winner will face the New York Rangers, who eliminated the Penguins in five games in their first-round series.

How it ended: John Carlson took a slap shot just as the final horn sounded, sparking a mini-melee after the game. Marcus Johansson threw a handful of punches and Alex Ovechkin tackled one of the Islanders. Clutterbuck then took his stick and began smashing the helmet that belonged to Johansson. Then, as the Caps left the ice, Jason Chimera got into a verbal fight weith a fan on the front row near the tunnel that leads to the visiting dressing room.

MORE: Islanders' 'architect' reflects on Coliseum's closing

Goal breakdown: The Isles scored first for the fourth time in the series when John Tavares snapped a wicked wrist shot past Braden Holtby on the Isles’ second shot of the game at the 6:56 mark. Caps defenseman Brooks stepped up to take out Ryan Strome in the neutral zone and Tavares used John Carlson and linemate Brock Nelson as a screen. Holtby leaned to his right to get a view of the shot, but Tavares’ shot went right, just inside the right post.

The Caps had three power plays in the opening period, two of them compliments of Islanders captain John Tavares, and finally cashed in with 4.3 seconds left. John Carlson’s shot from the right point found its way through a screen in front of Jaroslav Halak for his first goal of the playoffs and sixth of his post-season career. Tavares was not happy with the slashing call that put him to the box and considering the magnitude of the game, he appeared to have a legitimate argument since his tap on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s arm seemed nothing more than that.

Down Donovan: Already down to just four experienced defensemen and relying on a pair of blue liners with little NHL experience, the Isles were forced to play without defenseman Matt Donovan for 10 minutes after he took a 10-minute misconduct late in the second period. Donovan was upset at Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen for his clean, open-ice hit on Mikhail Grabovski, who returned in Game 5 after missing two months with a concussion. Judging by their reaction to Lubo Visnovsky getting knocked out of the series by Tom Wilson, the Islanders don’t like to see teammates with a history of concussions being targeted.

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

Very few teams have the luxury of having a backup goalie they can rely on for an extended period of time while the starter goes through a massive slump. The Capitals had that luxury in 2017-2018 thanks to Philipp Grubauer.

Not every team in the NHL has a dependable starter, let alone backup, so when a backup goalie goes 15-10-3 in a season with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, that is likely to catch the attention of general managers around the league.

The 2018-19 season will likely be a season of transition for the Capitals behind Braden Holtby. General manager Brian MacLellan expressed his willingness Wednesday to possibly trade backup goalie Philipp Grubauer this offseason. With the season he just had, he could potentially yield the Caps a solid return.

But, if Grubauer is indeed moved, that leaves the question of who will play backup for the Capitals this season?

The initial plan appears to be to promote Pheonix Copley from the AHL.

“Yeah, I think he's capable of it,” MacLellan said when asked if he saw Copley as an NHL backup. “Obviously, he's unproven. I think he's done what he could do at the American League level. Got through probably a little bit of a tough patch this year recovering from an injury, but I think he has potential to be that guy, yes.”

Copley, 26, played last season with the Caps’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears. He had a tough season with a 2.91 GAA and .896 save percentage in 41 games.

As MacLellan alluded, Copley suffered a serious injury at the end of the previous season and it clearly affected his season. The year prior, Copley managed a 2.15 GAA and .931 with Hershey in 16 games. He was considered Washington’s No. 3 goalie this season and was recalled for the playoffs as an emergency backup behind Grubauer.

Copley’s career includes only two NHL games.

There is another internal candidate who some fans may be hoping to see next season. That of course, is 2015 first-round draft pick Ilya Samsonov.

Samsonov, 21, signed an entry-level contract with Washington in May and will make the jump from the KHL to North America next season.

But don’t expect to see Samsonov backing up Holtby to start the NHL season.

Samsonov will be adjusting to the North American game and the smaller North American rink. Because of that, MacLellan believes he will benefit from time in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL.

"I think he needs time in Hershey,” MacLellan said. “We'll start him in Hershey I would anticipate and see how he grows, see how he gets accustomed to the small rink and hopefully get some good coaching, get our guys in that work with him. It'll be up to him. I think he'll adapt fairly quickly given his skill set.”

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Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

“I didn't think I'd be here a year ago,” Devante Smith-Pelly told the media Wednesday. “That's for sure.”

In 2017, Devante Smith-Pelly was a member of the New Jersey Devils and thought that’s where he would play the 2017-18 season. Instead, Smith-Pelly was bought out of the final year of his contract, something that he was not prepared for as he only received word of the team’s decision on the same day they made the move.

New Jersey’s loss turned out to be Washington’s gain as the Caps signed Smith-Pelly for one year and he proceeded to score seven goals during the Capitals’ postseason run to the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously, at the start of the year, not knowing exactly where I would be to at the parade on Constitution, it's crazy," Smith-Pelly said. "I haven't really sat down and taken it all in, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I had an amazing time this year. Obviously, it's the best year of my life.”

Now as a restricted free agent, Smith-Pelly is hoping he has found a home in Washington.

Despite being only 26-years-old, Smith-Pelly has already had somewhat of a journeyman’s career. The Caps are the fifth team in which he has played for.

The issue for much of Smith-Pelly's career has been consistency.

The 2018 playoffs was not his first breakout performance. He scored five goals in just 12 playoff games for the Anaheim Ducks in 2014, but he failed to live up to that level of production again until this year’s postseason with Washington.

“I don't think I needed to prove anything,” Smith-Pelly said. “I knew what I could do, it's just me getting a chance to do it and that's it. I got a chance here and I guess it worked out.”

Expecting him to score seven goals every 24 games in the regular season is likely unrealistic, but the Caps don’t need him to do that. Smith-Pelly developed a role with the Caps being a bottom-six player, a role that he thrived in throughout the season.

“He's become a big part of the team,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He brings good energy, he's a good teammate, he's well-liked. You could tell the teammates really migrate towards him, they like him and then the crowd also likes him. They're chanting 'DSP' all the time so it's been fun to watch how he's got everybody to embrace him and his personality.”

Given when Smith-Pelly was able to do in the postseason, it is no surprise that the Caps would be interested in keeping him around. But at what cost?

Smith-Pelly was a bargain for Washington last season with a cap hit of only $650,000. He will be due a raise, but with John Carlson expected to get a monster contract, how much will general manager Brian MacLellan be willing to spend on a bottom-six winger like Smith-Pelly?

Despite the phenomenal postseason, Smith-Pelly had only seven goals and 16 points in the entire regular season. When it comes to a new contract, MacLellan will likely want to pay for that player while Smith-Pelly will no doubt look to be paid like the player who scored seven times in 24 playoff games.

As of Wednesday when he spoke with reporters, Smith-Pelly said he had not yet had any talks with the team about a new contract, but also noted that, as a restricted free agent, “there’s no real rush.”

The Caps own Smith-Pelly’s rights which helps their bargaining position. Smith-Pelly, however, is arbitration eligible and his postseason stats will undoubtedly bump his value when viewed by a neutral arbitrator.

But there's a good chance it may not get anywhere close to that point.

“On the ice and off the ice I feel like this is the best situation I've been in,” Smith-Pelly said. “Obviously, never know what's going to happen but I found a place and I want to be back.”

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