WASHINGTON -- If the New York Islanders somehow find a way to get into the playoffs, fourth-year center John Tavares undoubtedly will be a big reason.
Tavares scored with 5 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the third period to send the Islanders to a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd at the Verizon Center.
The Islanders, who also received goals from Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey, moved two points ahead of the Capitals and two points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference standings.
"Not much has been accomplished just yet, so we've got to focus on the next game," Tavares said of the Islanders' four-game road trip, which continues Thursday night in Philadelphia. "Obviously, we're happy with the result, but it doesn't mean a whole lot if we can't get some momentum here."
The Capitals (15-17-1) saw their three-game winning streak end and are now four points out of a playoff spot with a three-day break in the schedule.
"We talked about the Islanders, they're a better team than people think," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "They've improved, they do a lot of things well and they're well coached. I don't think we took them lightly."
The Islanders (15-15-3) are now 14-6-2 when Tavares records a point, 1-9-1 when he doesn't.
A miscue by Capitals defenseman Mike Green at the side of his net led to Tavares' game-winner.
Green lost control of the puck at his feet, allowing Matt Moulson to scoop it up and pass to Tavares in the right circle. Tavares hammered a shot inside the right post for his 20th goal of the season, second in the NHL behind Steven Stamkos, who has 22.
"That line struggled a little bit in the first two periods but I knew they were going to find a way," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "When you need a big goal it's that line that usually comes up for us."
Both teams had a chance to take the lead on the power play in the third period but could not convert.
The Capitals killed off an interference penalty to Matt Hendricks with 9:17 gone, and the Isles killed off a holding penalty to Kyle Okposo at the 11:38 mark.
Trailing 2-0 after 20 minutes, the Capitals climbed back into the game on second-period goals by Mike Ribeiro and John Carlson.
Midway through the period, after Caps rookie defenseman Steve Oleksy dropped Islanders forward Matt Martin with a big hit along the boards, Troy Brouwer started a rush up the ice and fed Ribeiro.
The 33-year-old center stepped inside Marty Reasoner and snapped a shot inside the left post for his 11th goal and team-high 35th point of the season.
Less than four minutes later, with 6:32 remaining in the second, a long point shot by Carlson somehow found its way under an unscreened Evgeni Nabokov to tie the score at 2.
The Capitals dominated offensive zone play in the opening five minutes, but the Islanders grabbed a 2-0 lead on their second and fourth shots of the game.
Grabner opened the scoring at the 5:24 mark when he was left all alone in the offensive right circle. Former Capitals winger Keith Aucoin found Grabner, who ripped his 11th goal of the season past Braden Holtby.
Bailey made it 2-0 from almost the same spot when Okposo rifled a pass to him and he beat Holtby with a rising shot inside the left post for his fifth goal of the season.
"You've just got to keep going and find ways to win," said Okposo. "You can't get frustrated and we found a way to win tonight."
NOTES: Ribeiro, a subject of trade rumors as the April 3 trade deadline approaches, leads Washington in scoring with 35 points. He needs five points to reach 600 in his NHL career. ... New York entered the game having allowed more third-period goals (47) than any other team in the NHL, but shut out the Caps in the final 20 minutes. ... The Isles continue their season-high four-game road trip on Thursday night in Philadelphia, followed by stops in Pittsburgh and New Jersey. New York has a 9-4-1 road record. ... The Capitals are in the midst of a stretch in which they play seven of eight games on the road. After three days off, they'll hit the road for games in Buffalo, Philadelphia and Carolina. They are 7-9-1 on the road.