Getting leads hasn’t been a problem for the New York Islanders. Holding them is another matter.
The Islanders led Washington 4-1 entering the final minute of the second period on Tuesday night, but went home with their third straight win-turned-loss when the Capitals rallied to force overtime before winning 5-4 in a shootout.
Alex Ovechkin woke up the sleeping Capitals by scoring with 52.4 seconds left in the second period, and they came out storming in the third. Rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov went in alone and beat Evgeni Nabokov 1:51 into the third period, and Ovechkin tied it at 10:15 by putting his own rebound into the net at 10:15 for his 29th of the season.
John Tavares and Ovechkin each scored in the second round of the shootout. The next three shooters failed to score before Matt Hendricks made a beautiful deke and beat Nabokov easily with a backhander for the winner.
"It's the playoffs for us right now," Ovechkin said after the Caps' fourth straight win gave them 78 points, four ahead of ninth-place Buffalo and just one in back of first-place Florida in the Southeast Division. "Teams are fighting for those spots, and we need these points."
Coach Dale Hunter was pleased with his team's leaders for keeping the Caps from giving up on a night when they trailed by as many as three goals and saw the Islanders receive all five power plays awarded in the game.
"We have good leaders on this team, and they got us back in the game," said Hunter, who replaced Bruce Boudreau on Nov. 28. "We were on our heels and down 4-1 but the guys didn't give up. They busted their tails and got a big win."
It was the second big comeback by the Caps against the Islanders in two weeks. On Feb. 28, the Islanders led 2-0 with less than four minutes remaining in regulation, only to see the Caps tie it on two goals by Troy Brouwer and win on Ovechkin's goal in overtime.
"We really controlled the game, the first 40 minutes, and took it to them," Tavares said of Tuesday's loss. "We let them back in it."
The Islanders lost for the eighth time this season when leading by more than one goal, and for the ninth time (15-1-8) when leading after two periods. They are 0-1-2 in their last three games -- losing a 1-0 lead in the final 1:39 of a 2-1 loss to New Jersey on Saturday and being unable to hold three one-goal leads in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Rangers on Sunday before letting the Caps come from behind.
In contrast, the Capitals are 21-0-0 when leading after 40 minutes.
"We really have to be better in the third period," Tavares said. "The last two games, and the disappointing one against New Jersey -- in those key moments in the game, we let the momentum swing. They took it to us.
"We can't let this stuff happen. For us to take that next step, we have to be better in those areas."
The game couldn't have started better for the Islanders.
Matt Moulson reached the 30-goal mark for the third straight season when he scored a fluke goal at 8:54 of the opening period. His blast from the left circle missed the net, hit the glass and caromed back into the chest of goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who had turned around toward the boards. It bounced off Neuvirth and into the net.
Travis Hamonic made it 2-0 at 19:39 with another lucky-bounce goal -- his pass into the crease hit the skate of defenseman John Carlson and deflected into the net for a power-play goal.
"The bounces weren't going my way early in the game," said Neuvirth, who improved to 5-0-0 against the Islanders in his career. "It was an unbelievable comeback by the guys in the third period. We stuck with it and played as a group. It's a huge two points for us."
Tavares became the Isles' second 30-goal scorer this season in the second period, sandwiching a power-play rebound and a perfect wrister from the lower-left circle around a deflection by Mike Knuble that got the Caps on the board.
But in the end, it was just another painful loss in a season that has seen too many of them for the Islanders.
"Our discipline and decision-making is what bothers me," coach Jack Capuano said. "You have to know who you're up against. We talked about Ovechkin, and still he was able to get a couple to the back of our net."