The Caps trailed 4-1 entering the final minute of the second period and had been thoroughly outplayed by the Isles until Alex Ovechkin scored with 52.4 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to two goals. Goals by rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov and Ovechkin tied the game, and Matt Hendricks' shootout winner gave Washington a stunning 5-4 win.
The victory gives the eighth-place Caps 78 points, putting them four ahead of Buffalo and six in front of Winnipeg after winning the opener of a five-game road trip.
With six games on Wednesday's schedule, here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after the nine games played on Tuesday:
New York Rangers (95 points after Tuesday's 4-2 win against Carolina) tuned up for Thursday's showdown with Pittsburgh by polishing off the Hurricanes thanks to another two-goal performance by Brad Richards. The line of Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin combined for all four of New York's goals.
Florida (79 points after Tuesday's 5-2 win against Toronto) completed a season sweep against the Leafs, one of the few teams the Panthers have had no trouble scoring against this season. Florida got two goals by Sean Bergenheim and completed a 4-0-0 sweep in which it outscored the Leafs 20-9.
The next five:
Pittsburgh (89 points) is off until Thursday's visit to the New York Rangers, when the Penguins will have Sidney Crosby back in the lineup. It will be Crosby's first game since Dec. 5, when he developed concussion-like symptoms following a physical game against the Boston Bruins.
Philadelphia (87 points after Tuesday's 3-0 win against New Jersey) made life simple for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who had to stop only 17 shots for his third consecutive shutout and fourth in five games. The other good news for the Flyers was than center Danny Briere wrapped up the win by scoring into an empty net -- ending a 23-game goal drought.
New Jersey (85 points after Tuesday's 3-0 loss at Philadelphia) had to settle for a split of its home-and-home series with the Flyers after being dominated at the Wells Fargo Center.
Ottawa (81 points) was idle again on Tuesday. The Senators begin a home-and-home series with Montreal when they visit the Bell Centre on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, RDS and TSN in Canada).
Washington (78 points after Tuesday's 5-4 shootout win at the New York Islanders) simply refused to give up on a night when nothing seemed to be going right. The Islanders' first two goals went into the net off Washington players, New York was 2-for-5 on the power play and did not take a penalty, and the Caps were being outshot badly through the first half of the game. The win was their fourth in a row; they face a big challenge Friday night in Winnipeg.
On the outside looking in:
Buffalo (74 points) hosts Colorado on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN in the U.S., TSN2 in Canada). The Sabres will be without defenseman Tyler Myers, who was suspended for three games by the NHL on Tuesday for a hit to Montreal's Scott Gomez in Monday's game.
Winnipeg (72 points) again had to sit and watch the rest of the playoff contenders in the East add to their point totals. The Jets end a four-day break Wednesday night when Dallas comes to the MTS Centre.
St. Louis (98 points after Tuesday's 4-3 shootout loss at Chicago) led 3-1 after two periods but couldn't hold on and lost for the first time this season when scoring three goals. The Blues also saw their streak of consecutive penalty kills end at 51 -- two short of the NHL record -- when Brent Seabrook scored the tying goal early in the third period. The single point did move them six points ahead of Vancouver in the race for first in the West.
Dallas (83 points after Tuesday's 1-0 win at Minnesota) continues to win ugly. A third-period goal by Jamie Benn was the only goal in a game that saw neither team generate much in the way of offense. The Stars take a 10-0-1 mark in their last 11 games into Wednesday's visit to Winnipeg.
The next five:
Detroit (91 points after Tuesday's 5-2 loss at Los Angeles) got starting goaltender Jimmy Howard back after he missed three games with a groin injury -- but it didn't help. Jiri Hudler and Johan Franzen scored for the Wings, who are still without Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk -- neither of whom will play Wednesday night in Anaheim.
Nashville (89 points) had the first of two off-days on Tuesday. The Preds' road trip continues Thursday night at San Jose.
Chicago (84 points after Tuesday's 4-3 shootout win against St. Louis) looked like it would become St. Louis' latest victim when the Blues scored three times on six shots and took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission. But Corey Crawford replaced Ray Emery and was perfect the rest of the way, and the Hawks tied the game on goals by Victor Stalberg and Seabrook before Patrick Kane scored the winner in the shootout.
Phoenix (79 points) spent Tuesday heading for Vancouver, where the Coyotes begin a Western Canada trip on Wednesday.
San Jose (78 points after Tuesday's 3-2 overtime loss at Calgary) trailed 2-1 after two periods but earned a point on Logan Couture's goal 1:22 into the third period. The one point gives the Sharks the edge in the four-way tie among teams with 78 points because they've played fewer games than anyone else.
On the outside looking in:
Calgary (78 points after Tuesday's 3-2 overtime win against San Jose) allowed San Jose to get out of Scotiabank Saddledome with a point -- but went home with two when Matt Stajan scored with 40 seconds in overtime. The Flames have won four in a row. Calgary captain Jarome Iginla had the Flames' first goal, extending his streak of consecutive 30-goal seasons to 11.
Los Angeles (78 points after Tuesday's 5-2 win against Detroit) avenged a painful loss at Joe Louis Arena last Friday and created a four-way tie by beating the Wings soundly after splitting a four-game road trip. Five Kings scored and Jonathan Quick made 22 saves as L.A. beat the Wings for only the fourth time in Detroit's last 17 trips to Staples Center.
Colorado (78 points) begins a tough three-in-four trip Wednesday in Buffalo (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2). The Avs then visit New Jersey on Friday and the Rangers on Saturday.