Sports Minute: Isles look to close out Caps, Stars have Flames on brink
By STEPHEN WHYNOAP Hockey Writer
Losing with a chance to sweep the Washington Capitals didn't surprise Barry Trotz on the opposite bench after he coached them to the Stanley Cup in 2018.
“I know too much about that core," Trotz said. “I didn’t expect them to go away."
His New York Islanders will get another opportunity to eliminate the Capitals in Game 5 Thursday (8 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network), and it won't get any easier if the Capitals get top center Nicklas Backstrom back from injury. Backstrom is again a game-time decision to return to the first-round series he was knocked out of in Game 1 on a hit by Islanders captain Anders Lee.
“He’s a guy that does so much for this team," Capitals winger Tom Wilson said. “When you put someone like him into the lineup, it’s going to help in a number of different ways. He does a lot of little things well. He controls the team very well, and I think a guy as dynamic as him with the hockey IQ that he has can help you win hockey games.”
Washington needs to win three more to dig out of a 3-0 hole, which has only been done four times before in NHL history. The other team facing elimination Thursday, the Calgary Flames, need back-to-back victories as they trail the Dallas Stars 3-2 going into Game 6 (10:30 p.m. NBCSN).
Calgary players have plenty of experience in elimination games, including goaltender Cam Talbot, who also draws from experience backing up Henrik Lundqvist with the New York Rangers and watching how he handled those situations.
“You can’t change things because you’re facing elimination or you have a chance to eliminate a team,” Talbot said. “I think your consistency in your preparation is what got you here and what you need to continue to do to move forward."
The Flames also have an outside chance of getting a key player back, with big forward Matthew Tkachuk still considered day to day with an undisclosed injury. He has been out the past three games, and Calgary has tried to handle life without him.
“You don’t replace a Matthew Tkachuk, for sure, with one player,” coach Geoff Ward said. “You have to do it by committee. We’ve talked about it before. If he’s not in the lineup (for Game 6), the most important lineup is the one that we put on the ice and then it’s just a matter of guys who are in being ready to step up and pull on the rope and play their game.”
The Stars have been without injured No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop the past two games and relied on Anton Khudobin to carry them. Coach Rick Bowness said Bishop and defenseman Stephen Johns are still each “unfit to play” — the NHL's new catch-all term for absences.
Despite coaches around the league opining that the quarantined bubble tests which players and teams want to stay and which want to go home, Dallas isn't approaching its close-out game of Calgary any differently.
“It’s the playoffs: You should have the same approach going into every game,” he said. “Not every game is do or die like it is for Calgary (on Thursday), but your mindset should be to go out there and have determination. ... The bubble’s no longer a factor as much as keep the mind on the game and the intensity of the game and do what we have to do to win that game.”
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