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Kuznetsov scores in shootout, Capitals edge Islanders

by Adam Vingan / NHL.com

WASHINGTON -- Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz stepped behind the podium at his postgame press conference Saturday and held up four fingers.

It signified Washington's first four-game winning streak of the season, earned by defeating the New York Islanders 3-2 in a shootout at Verizon Center.

Though it wasn't Trotz's intention, it also indicated that the Capitals closed within four points of the Islanders for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

"I looked at that game as hopefully a playoff series at some point," Trotz said. "Two very good hockey teams that mirror each other in a lot of ways in terms of some style."

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the only goal of the shootout in the first round for Washington (33-17-10); Matt Niskanen and Eric Fehr scored in regulation.

"That's we need to be doing," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. "If we want to gain any ground on these teams that are in front of us, we have to win four, five, six in a row because everyone's playing so good. … It's a fulfilling win knowing that we can beat those guys."

Goaltender Braden Holtby made 30 saves, and Nicklas Backstrom had one assist, breaking a tie with Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane for the NHL scoring lead with 64 points.

"We want to keep collecting points and climb the standings," Backstrom said. "We played a really good team today. We know they're not going to give you a lot. Good win for us."

Kuznetsov scored on his forehand to open the shootout. The Islanders' first two shooters, Frans Nielsen and John Tavares, did not score. After Alex Ovechkin missed an opportunity to end the game in the top of the third round, Holtby stopped Ryan Strome on a backhand attempt. It was New York's first overtime or shootout loss in eight games against Metropolitan Division teams.

Strome forced overtime by scoring with 47.8 seconds left and goalie Chad Johnson pulled for an extra skater. Travis Hamonic had the other goal for New York (39-19-2), which had won 12 of its previous 13 divisional games. Johnson made 25 saves.

"It's better than losing in regulation and certainly was a big game," Tavares said. "It's going to be a fight right until the end. They're a good team. They're one of the better teams we've played all year."

With the Islanders on the rush in the first period, Hamonic sped into open ice and joined the play, curling inside and beating Holtby underneath his catching glove with a wrist shot at 7:41. Hamonic hadn't scored since Nov. 26 against the Capitals.

Niskanen's third goal of the season at 19:19 was his first at even strength. Backstrom entered the offensive zone near the left-wing boards, carrying the puck below the goal line before finding Niskanen in the right circle for a one-timer.

"Is that it? Wow, I wish I had one sooner," Niskanen said. "It's nice to contribute. I was mad because [Backstrom] tried the same type of pass earlier and it hopped over my stick at the last second. Nice play by him to put it right in the wheelhouse so I could shoot it."

Washington held a 10-7 shot advantage during a scoreless second period, creating higher-quality chances than New York through extended offensive pressure.

"It was hard to really generate anything on [Holtby]," Johnson said. "It was a tough game. [There were] low shots for a while there."

The third period began with one of the Islanders' best scoring opportunities when Holtby stretched to his right to stop Josh Bailey on a 2-on-1 with Tavares.

A save by Holtby on Johnny Boychuk late in the third period sent the Capitals on a rush that led to Fehr's goal at 14:26. Fehr grabbed the rebound of Boychuk's shot and pushed the puck to Brooks Laich. Laich raced toward Johnson as Fehr trailed closely behind, receiving Laich's pass and scoring his 17th goal of the season on a wrist shot from the slot.

With 1:05 remaining and Johnson pulled, Tavares clanged a bouncing puck off the post with Holtby out of position, but the Islanders tied the game less than 20 seconds later. Tavares shot from above the right circle, and Anders Lee deflected it positioned himself in front of Holtby. Strome, standing to Holtby's right, collected the rebound and quickly scored on a sharp-angle shot.

"We were in a good position to get a regulation win, but things happen," Niskanen said. "We executed what we wanted to do there, and a rebound goes right to a guy's forehand on the weak side. That's a good play on their part, but we didn't do anything wrong there. Good game overall. There wasn't a lot of space out there for much of the game. Not many shots early in the game. It was real tight-checking. We stayed with it and played an overall good game."

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