LANDOVER -- John Kordic didn't show because of an apparent relapse with an alcohol problem and Dale Hunter was serving the first of a four-game suspension for what the National Hockey League called a "vicious check" on Gord Murphy of the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 10 at the Capital Centre.
But the Washington Capitals pulled themselves together in the second period and rallied for three straight goals to turn back the New York Islanders, 3-2, last night before a sellout crowd of 18,130 at the Capital Centre.
"We were flat for more than a period because it [Kordic's suspension] was on everyone's mind," said Washington left wing Alan May. "We put so much confidence in him, and tonight everybody felt let down."
Kordic was suspended indefinitely by the Capitals, and his future with the team is uncertain.
However, Washington (63 points) moved two points closer to the idle fourth-place New Jersey Devils (67 points) in the Patrick Division standings with its sixth win in six games against the Islanders this season.
The game-winning goal by Michal Pivonka came with 5 minutes, 58 seconds left in the third period and was one of the few spectacular plays all evening.
Pivonka skated across the blue line and fired the puck into the lower right corner of the net.
The advantage held up despite a late flurry of Islanders shots that were rejected by Washington goaltender Mike Liut (20 saves).
"Mike Liut came up big again for us," said Washington coach Terry Murray. "It was a game we won with a lot of hard work. It wasn't any X's and O's I drew up on the board. We can't afford to lose to the teams we're supposed to beat, and the New York Islanders are one of those teams."
Islanders center Pat Lafontaine said: "I don't know what it is, but every game with Washington has been almost by one goal or overtime and we lose. They've taken 12 points from us. If we play them .500, it's a different story."
The Islanders are in last place in the Patrick Division, 12 points behind the Capitals.
The Islanders got off to a fast start, taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Lafontaine and Randy Wood. Lafontaine off a nifty pass from David Volek at 12:53 of the opening period. Wood found the net 1:44 into period two.
After slumbering through the first 30 minutes of the game, Washington started to show some life shortly after May hooked up in a brief scuffle with the Islanders' Ken Baumgardner.
The Capitals got goals by Dimitri Khristich and Kevin Hatcher in 4:17 of the second period to gain a 2-2 tie entering the third period.