After being outplayed badly in the first period, Washington came alive when Brooks Laich scored in the second and added an assist on Mike Knuble's game-tying goal early in the third as the Capitals rallied for a 3-2 win against the New York Islanders in front of a capacity crowd of 16,250 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Alexander Semin's wrister with 14:19 remaining in regulation capped Washington's comeback and kept the fifth-place Capitals three points ahead of Montreal in the Eastern Conference playoff scramble. The Caps, who host the Islanders on Tuesday in the back end of the home-and-home series, are now 10-0-1 in their last 11 games against the Isles since the start of the 2008-09 season.
"The main thing is a good feeling going back home after (Friday) night," Laich said. "You want to forget about (Friday) night's game. It wasn't pretty and we were disappointed with what happened. But to bounce back, especially after being down 2-0, we showed some resolve and came back to get a hard-fought win."
Just 24 hours after getting embarrassed at home in a 6-0 loss to the New York Rangers, the Capitals were no-shows in the opening period Saturday. Washington did not have a shot on goal halfway through the period and was outshot 14-5. Luckily, Kyle Okposo was the lone scorer for New York in the first 20 minutes of play.
Okposo opened the scoring at 13:48. With the teams at even strength, he skated into the Caps' zone with the puck and split the defense before firing a gorgeous wrist shot from between the circles past Michal Neuvirth. It was Okposo's third goal of the season.
"We never take this team lightly," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Islanders, who are 0-2-1 in their last three. "When was the last time it wasn't a one-goal game? These guys have been the hottest team since the All-Star break and the highest-scoring team since the All-Star break. They're going to be a really good team in the not-too-distant future."
The Islanders doubled their lead just 33 seconds into the second, when Travis Hamonic tallied his third goal of the season. Hamonic, who briefly left the ice during the first period after being hit by a shot, picked up a bad clear and took a slapper from the point. Washington defenseman John Carlson tried to knock it down, but deflected it into his own net instead,
Neuvirth, who finished with 29 saves, kept the deficit at two goals until his teammates woke up, which seemed to come during a timeout Boudreau called shortly after Hamonic's goal.
"Quite frankly, I was telling them we stink," Boudreau said. "We were being embarrassed by a bunch of 22- and 23-year-olds. We were lucky, up to that point, that it wasn't 5-0. We played like a hockey team after that."
Added Knuble on Boudreau's timeout speech: "You can't repeat what he said. Basically, wake yourselves up and start playing because you're looking like a bunch of clowns, and we were. We were kind of like Keystone Cops out there for a little bit. I'm glad we were able to fix things. The hard work started and then the talent took over."
Washington finally got on the scoreboard when Laich scored midway through the second by powering his way past Hamonic and firing a wrister that beat Al Montoya to the far side to make it 2-1. It was Laich's 13th goal of the season -- and the first Caps' tally since Alex Ovechkin scored late in the second period at Pittsburgh on Monday night.
Knuble tied the game just 2:24 into the third period on another even-strength tally. The veteran forward eluded Isles' defenseman Ty Wishart and backhanded a cross-crease feed from Laich past Montoya for his 15th goal of the season.
"It's kind of frustrating," Hamonic said. "I thought we showed a lot of heart and a lot of character. We've really got to find that extra little gear at the end of the game. I think maybe we just kind of let off the gas a little bit. Against a team like that, whenever you do something like that, they're going to bring the offense. We just didn't match it there for a couple of minutes. It's a frustrating result."
With the Isles on their heels, Semin gave Washington its first lead of the night when he beat Montoya for his 22nd goal of the season. Semin, who had been quiet for most of the night, took a pass from Ovechkin and zipped a low wrist shot from the slot to put the Caps ahead to stay with 14:19 remaining in regulation.
The win gave the fifth-place Caps 74 points, keeping them four behind Pittsburgh in the race for the last home-ice spot in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They stayed three points ahead of sixth-place Montreal.
"It's just one win," Laich said. "Now we've got to get back and take care of business at home."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL