The New York Islanders came out of the all-star break the same way they went in - with a win over a division leader.
Johnny Boychuk's empty-net goal held up as the game winner, as the Islanders beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Tuesday night at Barclays Center. The win extended the Islanders' point streak to a season-high seven games (6-0-1), and lifted them a season-series win over the league-leading Capitals. It also put them three points back of the second wild card spot.
"We're digging ourselves out," Interim Head Coach Doug Weight said. "We said we were entering relevance a week or 10 days ago and I think we're in the conversation now. We have a long way to go, but the guys believe and with each win our confidence in each other, the way we're playing we expect to win before the puck is dropped."
Washington presented a stiff test for the Islanders out of the break, as the Capitals entered Tuesday with a 12-1-1 record in January. Evgeny Kuznetsov's opening goal aside - a stick-side snap shot from the slot - the Islanders weathered an early Capitals push, punctuated by Nick Leddy breaking up an Alex Ovechkin breakaway and dropping down to disrupt an Andre Burakovsky 2-on-1.
Video: WSH@NYI: Quine slams home a rebound for PPG
The Islanders wound up outshooting the Capitals 11-9 in the opening frame, but really found their legs in the second period. Alan Quine tied things up 2:41 into the second with a power-play goal, as Andrew Ladd's shot hit the crossbar and deflected right to Quine at the side of the net for the tap-in. The Capitals generated some zone time, but few chances, as the Isles outshot them 11-5 in the frame.
"Giving up that goal 1-0 and the way they responded, they played much better in the second," Interim Coach Doug Weight said. "Sometimes you might think against a team like that, that's a big goal, but there was no emotion, nobody getting out of control on the bench. It was about doing what we had to do."
That set up a 1-1 tie in the third period, but for the second straight game, the Islanders came out and grabbed the lead. Ryan Strome broke the deadlock 6:31 into the third, finishing a cross-ice feed from Brock Nelson for his first goal in 12 games. Anthony Beauvillier started the play creating a turnover behind the net and working the puck to Nelson, as all three forwards teamed up for the goal.
Video: WSH@NYI: Strome finishes gorgeous passing play in 3rd
"The last three or four games we haven't been able to score, but the coaches have been happy with us," Strome said of his line. "For all of us to get one and contribute feels good. We have to keep building on it."
Strome's goal didn't quite hold up as the game-winner, as the honor wound up going to Boychuk on his empty-netter. Boychuk put the Islanders up 3-1 with 1:08 to play in the third.
Boychuk's empty-netter at first appeared to be the insurance goal, but was elevated to game-winner status after Alex Ovechkin's late slap shot cut the Islanders' lead to one. The Capitals pressed in the final minute, but the Islanders clamped down for the two points.
"We are doing our battling late in games and are finding ways to win," Weight said. "We're getting saves, getting smart play from all four lines."
Video: WSH@NYI: Boychuk scores empty-netter through traffic
The Islanders head to Detroit on Friday night for the first half of a back-to-back. They return home to play the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
Cal Clutterbuck and Thomas Hickey both missed Tuesday's game with lower-body injuries… Shane Prince returned after a one-game absence and skated with Casey Cizikas and Nikolay Kulemin... Thomas Greiss made 28 saves in the win, while Philipp Grubauer stopped 26-of-28 shots in the loss.