WASHINGTON -- John Tavares and his linemates had one of their roughest games of the season Tuesday as the Islanders lost an early two-goal lead.
But the reason Tavares is the engine that makes the Islanders go is that he finds a way to get results. He did just that, ripping a shot past Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby with 5:18 to play, snapping a 2-2 tie and sending the Isles to their biggest win of the season, a 3-2 victory over Washington that moved the Islanders into sole possession of ninth place in the East, two points behind the Rangers.
"When you have your leaders like those guys, you have to show the faith and confidence in them," said Jack Capuano, who strongly considered undoing the Tavares-Matt Moulson-Brad Boyes line for the third period. "No matter how the game's going, those are your guys. And they got a pretty big one for us."
After a few rough shifts in their own end over the first two periods, Tavares and mates were there to pounce on a Capitals mistake late. Mike Green flubbed a play by the side of his own goal, Moulson grabbed the puck and sent it back to Tavares, whose laser caromed off the post and behind Holtby.
"I just think we recognized how important this game was," said Tavares, whose line had the most trouble against Alex Ovechkin's line.
Then Mike Ribiero got the Caps on the board at 10:05 of the second, cutting the Isles lead to 2-1. Ovechkin helped set up John Carlson's one-timer from the point that beat Evgeni Nabokov (20 saves, 12-1-2 lifetime against Caps) at 13:28 of the second to send the game to the third period knotted at 2.
That marked the seventh time this season the Islanders had coughed up a two- or three-goal lead. But Tavares' winner, his 20th goal of the season, made the Isles 4-2-1 in those games.
"They had momentum, but we found a way to win. We were feeling pretty confident after the second, even though it was tied," said Kyle Okposo, who set up Bailey at 7:56 of the first for the second Islanders goal after Grabner opened the scoring at 5:24.
Okposo had a golden chance on a second-period power play to make it 3-0, and the Isles had some good play despite the Capitals tying the score, most of it from the Okposo-Bailey-Frans Nielsen line.
But even though Tavares and his mates were struggling, Capuano couldn't juggle the line. "Those guys know how they have to play," Capuano said. "We showed them some video after the second, but there's a reason they have a ton of goals."
Tavares came up with perhaps his biggest goal of the season, and now the Islanders head to Philadelphia having rescued another game in which they stumbled.
"We're a little weird this season," said Travis Hamonic, who had three of the Isles' 26 blocked shots, including five blocks on Ovechkin. "We had a run where we had some bad first periods, then we just had a run where we had a few bad third periods. We understand momentum is going to shift at times, and I feel like we've turned the page and started to learn how to win these games when we have some bad moments."