Whether or not the Washington Capitals realized it, they had the New York Islanders just where they wanted them in the third period – out in front by two goals.
The Capitals’ offence woke up with a pair of goals in the third, and Brooks Laich finished off the comeback a minute into overtime as the Capitals beat the lowly Islanders 3-2 on Saturday night.
This is nothing new to the Islanders, who have already blown third-period leads in three home games – including a pair of two-goal advantages – and a three-goal edge in the final minutes of regulation in a shootout loss at Boston.
“We don’t necessarily think about that, but the last four times we played them we went to OT,” said Washington defenceman Mike Green, who scored a goal and made the key pass to set up Laich. “We know when we play these guys we’ve got to go, go, go and keep on them. If we don’t, they work so hard that they’ll come right at us.”
The Islanders haven’t been able to build off their lone win, a shootout decision at home on Wednesday night against Carolina in which they couldn’t protect a late two-goal lead. New York followed that with a 5-1 loss at Montreal on Thursday night and then another disappointing defeat.
“We’re not paying attention to details. It always happens around the seven-minute mark,” Islanders defenceman Brendan Witt said. “We just have to fix it and find an answer for it.
“We think we had a good effort, but we should’ve gotten the two points.”
Green started Washington’s rally when he whistled a slap shot past goalie Dwayne Roloson at 6:02. Keith Aucoin got some help from the leg of Islanders forward Josh Bailey to tie it with 6:50 left before Laich’s heroics.
Green raced the puck up ice and sent a floating pass across the crease to Laich, who deflected it past Roloson a minute into the extra session and sent the Capitals (6-2-2) to their fourth straight win.
“I knew that he was there,” Green said. “Brooks goes to the net and I was just hoping that he would get a stick on it and he did.”
The Islanders (1-4-4) are trying to focus on the positive that they are carrying late leads and not dwell on the fact they haven’t been able to hold them.
“It’s a young team and you have to learn,” Witt said. “You have to take your lumps before you succeed in that area. We have to keep harping on it and get guys relaxed.”
Washington has won three consecutive games in overtime on Long Island. Capitals star Alex Ovechkin ended both visits last season with extra-session goals. The NHL’s leading scorer was shut down for most of Saturday before earning an assist on Aucoin’s tying goal that was kicked in by Bailey.
Aucoin was credited with his first of the season. Jose Theodore finished with 28 saves.
Radek Martinek staked the Islanders to an early lead with a first-period, short-handed goal, and Jeff Tambellini made it 2-0 in the third with his first point of the season. That merely set up Washington’s comeback.
The Islanders bucked a trend and got the jump on the Capitals, who haven’t been used to falling behind.
During a Washington power play in which New York had the best scoring chances, Martinek broke through. Sean Bergenheim led a rush and sent a left-to-right pass to Frans Nielsen in the Capitals zone. Nielsen dropped the puck back to Martinek, who wound up from the high slot and scored at 12:14.
It marked the second short-handed goal scored this season by the Islanders, both coming in the past two games. Washington has allowed two short-handed tallies and is suddenly struggling on the power play. The Capitals were 0-for-4 against New York after an 0 for 7 showing in a victory Thursday over Atlanta in which Ovechkin failed to record a point.
“It’s getting back to playing simple and playing the system,” Green said. “We’re trying so hard to do the right things that it’s not working out.”
The Capitals had scored first in six straight games and in eight of their first nine. This was only the second time this season they didn’t net a goal in the first period.
Tambellini pushed the Islanders’ lead to 2-0 at 3:44 of the third when he deflected Blake Comeau’s shot behind him at the left post and past a surprised Theodore.
Green cut the deficit in half 2:18 later.
NOTES: New York has been outscored 16-6 in the third. … The Capitals have outscored opponents 13-5 in the first. … Islanders captain Doug Weight missed his second straight game because of the flu.