The New York Islanders’ formula thus far in March has been as dramatic as it has been successful.
The Islanders will look to continue their perfect start to the month and extend their lead in the Eastern Conference wild-card race Saturday night when New York is slated to host the Washington Capitals in a battle of longtime rivals in Elmont, N.Y.
Both teams were off Friday after playing overtime games against divisional foes Thursday night. Brock Nelson scored 2:13 into overtime to cap a comeback from a two-goal third-period deficit and lift the visiting Islanders past the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3. The host Capitals fell to the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in the shootout.
The win was the third straight for the Islanders, who have scored the winning goal in the third period or beyond in all three victories over teams behind them in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Islanders opened the streak March 4 when they scored four unanswered goals in the third period of a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. Hudson Fasching scored the tie-breaking goal in the third period Tuesday in a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
The Penguins appeared on the verge of tying the Islanders for the first wild card when they led New York 3-1 with six minutes left Thursday night. But Fasching scored with 5:29 remaining and Anders Lee forced overtime with 1:15 left before Nelson scored on a breakaway.
The Islanders lead the wild-card race with 76 points, two more than the Penguins. New York is seven points ahead of the Capitals, eight points ahead of the Sabres and nine points ahead of the Red Wings, who occupy 11th, 12th and 13th place in the East.
“Right now we have a little momentum,” Nelson said. “We’ve had a few good games and come out with big points. If we could close it out, it would definitely put a nice exclamation point on the week.”
The Capitals missed another chance to build some momentum Thursday night, when they fell for the ninth time in 12 games (3-8-1) as their hopes of extending their run of eight straight playoff berths — tied for the second-longest active streak in the NHL — were dented.
Trevor van Riemsdyk scored in the final 10 seconds of the first period and Dylan Strome scored the tying goal in the second for Washington, which was outshot 39-18 in regulation before holding a 4-1 advantage in the overtime and going scoreless on four attempts in the shootout.
“We definitely needed two (points),” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought (goalie) Darcy (Kuemper) played an unbelievable game, but you have opportunities. We just couldn’t get it done. I think you look back with frustration.”
The game against the Islanders marks the second in a potentially defining four-game stretch for the Capitals, who are slated to visit the Rangers on Tuesday before hosting the Sabres on Wednesday.