WASHINGTON -- The New York Islanders gave their flickering hopes of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs a boost on Tuesday night.
Andrew MacDonald scored the game's lone goal 2:16 into the third period and Evgeni Nabokov made 22 saves for his 57th career shutout to lead the Islanders to a 1-0 victory against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.
"It's a good win for our team," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "We're a desperate team. I thought our guys really worked hard [Tuesday] right from the start."
The win snapped New York's 0-4-1 slide. The Islanders are 10 points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 24 games remaining.
They know making up that kind of deficit won't be easy, but they're not giving up hope.
"I thought the past few games, we hadn't really been getting the results that we've wanted, and we played pretty good, but [Tuesday] was a great one to get, especially considering the way the games we played against [Washington] this year have gone," MacDonald said. "It was a big divisional game and we knew these three games going into the [Olympic] break were going to be pretty crucial for us. It's a good start."
Washington (25-23-9) lost its sixth straight game within the Metropolitan Division and is 0-6-1 in intradivisional games since a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on Dec. 27. The Capitals are three points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the final wild-card playoff berth in the East.
One game after defeating the Red Wings 6-5 in overtime on Sunday, the Capitals were shut out for the fourth time this season. All four shutouts have come at home.
"It's hard to explain," forward Martin Erat said. "We win [a] big game against Detroit and [then] we have to come back and get to the next game. We can't go one game and then the next come in flat. We just have to figure it out. We have 25 games left and it's going to be a sprint."
With time and space to wind up, MacDonald's blast from the right point eluded a screened Michal Neuvirth (24 saves) 16 seconds after New York failed to score on a power play.
The first period was physical but featured little in the way of offense. Each team had eight shots on goal, though Washington generated more sustained offensive-zone pressure.
The best scoring chance for either team came with under eight minutes left after Eric Fehr poked an intended Islander pass up ice, fueling a 2-on-2 rush with Jason Chimera. Chimera sped up the left side of ice, firing a wrist shot that Nabokov stopped but could not control. Fehr pounced on the rebound, but his shot glanced off the right post.
Washington, which entered the game with the third-best power play in the NHL, had more than four minutes with which to work against New York's League-worst penalty-killing unit in the second period. But the Capitals did nothing with their 5-on-4 time, whiffing on several shots and negating a late opportunity after 31 seconds when Troy Brouwer, who missed two power-play shots from his customary position in the slot, interfered with Brock Nelson.
In all, New York killed off six Washington power plays totaling 10:27. It was a big turnaround for the NHL's bottom-ranked penalty-killing unit, which was torched for four power-play goals in the Islanders' last visit to Washington on Nov. 5.
"It was kind of a weird one," MacDonald said. "You don't really want to play with fire too much against [the Capitals] and give them too many power plays. Fortunately, we were able to draw a couple when they were on the power play and negate them so that was important for us. Like I said, our penalty kill did a great job and so did [Nabokov] back there."
Thomas Vanek, whose hooking penalties gave the Capitals two power-play chances early in the second period, drew a holding call on Connor Carrick as time expired to provide New York with one of its own to open the third period. About 90 seconds into the period, Vanek set up Frans Nielsen with a backhanded pass for a wide-open chance in the crease, but Neuvirth slid across to rob him with a glove save.
However, Neuvirth could not stop MacDonald's goal 49 seconds later. He did stop Michael Grabner's penalty shot at 8:26 after John Carlson hooked the speedy New York forward on a shorthanded breakaway to keep the game at 1-0, but the Capitals could not tie the game on their final power play after Lubomir Visnovsky was sent off for holding Alex Ovechkin with 3:05 left in regulation.
Each team has two home games remaining before the League breaks for the Sochi Games. The Islanders return to Nassau Coliseum to play the Calgary Flames on Thursday and Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. The Capitals host the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday and New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
"They're huge," Fehr said of Washington's upcoming games. "We need to win our games at home. We just went on a long road trip and didn't win very much, so we have to take advantage of this."