LANDOVER -- Last week's day-after-Christmas nightmare began to flash through the mind of Washington Capitals coach Terry Murray yesterday when the New York Islanders threatened to pull off their best imitation of the New York Rangers.
The Islanders scored three straight goals in a little more than four minutes at the start of the third period, cutting into Washington's four-goal lead and looking a lot like the Rangers six days ago at the Capital Centre.
But Mike Ridley and the Washington defense wouldn't let it happen again yesterday before 17,317.
Ridley scored two goals in the third period and the Capitals killed off two important power plays to turn back the Islanders, 8-5, in a Patrick Division game.
On Dec. 26, the Rangers scored the final seven goals of the game to wipe out a 6-1 Washington lead after one period. It was the first time in their 18-year history that the Capitals had blown a five-goal lead.
Yesterday's victory moved first-place Washington (53 points) two points ahead of the Rangers (51 points) in the Patrick Division standings at the season's midway point.
"Sure, you get flashbacks to the last game," said Murray, who called timeout after the Islanders had scored twice to reduce the lead to 6-4. "You know it can happen again. I called timeout to stress fundamentals, no pinching back or gambling."
Murray's advice didn't produce instant results. Islanders left wing Derek King completed a hat trick at 4:04 of the third period to bring the visitors within 6-5.
But Ridley and the penalty-killing unit staved off a five-on-three Islanders' power play and a one-man New York advantage midway through the final period.
Ridley pulled off one of the bigger plays of the season for the Capitals at 4:50 of the third period.
He skated from behind the net and overpowered a couple of Islanders to get free in front of the goal, where he made a couple of fancy moves, trying to get goaltender Glenn Healy out of position.
When Healy wouldn't go for the fakes, Ridley flipped the puck into the top of the net for a 7-5 lead.
"I was waiting and waiting before I shot, trying to make him [Healy] go down," said Ridley. "I know it seemed like I had all the time in the world to shoot. Two seconds is a long time to be open and that's how long it seemed."
Ridley, who was working the puck along the left backboards with Kelly Miller before he took it around the net for the goal, said he knew he could make the strong move without any trouble.
"I yelled to Kelly, 'I got it,' and took off," said Ridley. "I knew I could walk around the net. But it wasn't like I won the game for us. It was just something I sensed I could do."
Murray said of the Ridley goal: "That was just talent and skill taking over for Mike under pressure. He held the puck in front of the goal and knew what to do."
Ridley came back at 16:16 of the final period to score a power-play goal, making it a 4-for-4 day on power plays for Washington, which continues to lead the NHL in that category.
Ridley redirected a Sylvain Cote shot from the left point into the net for the 8-5 lead.
Before all the late dramatics, left wing Nick Kypreos scored two goals to pace Washington to the 6-2 lead. He had scored only one goal this season before yesterday.
"It's nice to see a guy like Nick Kypreos get his name in the paper for a change," said Murray. "He and players like Alan May work hard on the ice but seldom get noticed."
Kypreos, like Ridley, made a strong individual move for the first of his two goals.
He took a pass from Cote on the left wing, out-skated New York defender Joe Reekie, who was pushing him along the boards, angled his way to the left crease and chipped a low backhand shot into the right side of the net for a 3-1 lead at 2:55 of the second period.
King said of his hat trick in defeat: "Maybe three isn't enough. It's the second time it's happened this season. We can score goals but on defense, one guy gets out of position and then we get running around."
Islanders coach Al Arbour said: "We're struggling. Some of these guys are putting their heads down. We have a lot of guys injured and some of the other guys need to step up and take charge."