WASHINGTON -- The Islanders are, somehow, still alive in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. The way they handed away Tuesday night's 3-2 overtime loss to the Capitals, though, would make any observer seriously doubt that this team was in the running for anything positive.
After handling the Caps extremely well for 56 minutes while building a 2-0 lead, the Islanders blew themselves up with breakdowns in the final 3:29, leading to two Troy Brouwer goals, the second with 25.6 seconds left that sent it to overtime.
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Alex Ovechkin won it 1:35 into OT, giving the Caps two much-needed points on a night when it looked as if Evgeni Nabokov and the Islanders would take the only two points to be awarded and climb within six points of eighth.
Now, the Isles are eight points out, 1-3-1 in their last five games and dumbstruck at how this one slipped through their grasp.
"It's a little cliche, I guess, but it's part of the process, learning how to win and do the right things," Travis Hamonic said. "I don't know how many times we have to learn it the hard way. We're leaving a lot of points on the board. The writing's on the wall for us."
Even after Brouwer scored from alone in front with 3:29 to go -- and after Jason Chimera beat Mark Streit to a puck that had been iced by Washington -- the Islanders had it on their sticks. Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth headed to the bench for an extra attacker, and the Isles got control of the puck and headed up ice on what looked like a game-clinching rush.
Kyle Okposo, struggling mightily yet again, couldn't cleanly get the puck to another struggling Islander, Michael Grabner; still, Grabner needed only to corral the puck and flip it from the Caps' blue line into the empty goal with a minute to play. But he lost control of it, the Caps went the other way and got a faceoff in the Islanders zone when Josh Bailey, who scored his first goal in 10 games and had an otherwise solid night, flipped a clearing attempt into his own bench.
"It's definitely frustrating when you could have put the game away right there," said Grabner, who was stopped on two breakaways and a two-on-one. "It's not going good in the scoring department for sure."
"It's a tough way to go down," said Bailey, who moved to the wing and played effectively with Nielsen and David Ullstrom. "It's unacceptable to lose a two-goal lead that late."
And yet it ended with the Caps piling onto one another in a crucial victory. The Islanders may still be in this slow-speed chase for the postseason and they even gained a point, but this was a killer, no matter what the standings say.
Notes & quotes: Nino Niederreiter was a healthy scratch for the Islanders . . . Ovechkin got away with a high stick to Mark Eaton's mouth that drew blood with 2:25 left in the third.