UNIONDALE, N.Y., JAN. 31 -- It looked as if the Washington Capitals were headed for another woeful loss.

"You could see it happening again," goalie Don Beaupre said. "It had all the earmarks."

But the Capitals left the Nassau Coliseum tonight with a big win, having overcome themselves and the stubborn New York Islanders, 4-3, before 11,133.

Mikhail Tatarinov scored his first goal in more than two months to push the Capitals into their fourth consecutive overtime (fifth in the last six games). Then Dale Hunter won it, shoveling Michal Pivonka's pass past goalie Jeff Hackett with 1:44 gone in the extra period.

The Capitals are having trouble advancing in the Patrick Division standings, and they still are three points behind fourth-place New Jersey. After botching their chances Tuesday in Pittsburgh and for much of tonight's third period, they looked as if they were going backward again.

But Coach Terry Murray cut down his lineup tonight, using only four defensemen and about six forwards for the last 10 minutes.

"When you shorten the deck, you're obviously pushing a button and saying, 'We have to get a goal,' " Murray said of his desperation.

Beaupre was once again fantastic. But the Capitals also got some of their offensive people untracked. Hunter, Tatarinov and Dino Ciccarelli, who scored to make it 2-2 early in the third, had all been in slumps.

Derek King had the first two Islanders goals, with Brent Sutter getting the other for New York, which lost to the Capitals, 5-4, in overtime Sunday in Landover.

The Capitals now are 5-0 this season against the Islanders, who were coming off an 8-1 victory in Hartford.

"We've been on a roller-coaster all year," center Pat LaFontaine said. "Consistency has been the thing holding us back."

In a bit of surprise, Murray put newly acquired tough guy John Kordic in the lineup.

It didn't take long for the rough stuff to begin, but it was more wrestling than boxing. After a whistle with just 5:23 gone, the Capitals' Alan May and the Islanders' Ken Baumgartner paired up. Baumgartner won points only for his takedown, with the rest inconsequential.

Kordic and Mick Vukota threw a few more punches before Vukota went for the takedown. With no knockouts, neither team got much emotional lift from the fracases, but the Capitals did come out ahead. May and Baumgartner got five-minute fighting penalties and 10-minute misconduct penalties. Kordic drew just five for fighting, but Vukota got two for instigating, five for fighting, a 10-minute and a game misconduct.

The Capitals got a power play from all of that. But that unit has fallen to a 20th ranking on the road, so it was no shock when it wasted the opportunity. But soon after, the Capitals took a 1-0 lead.

Dimitri Khristich fed Steve Leach, who beat Hackett for his ninth goal with 11:59 left in the first period.

The second period was typical of the Capitals' recent frustrations. They had a bundle of good scoring chances. Tatarinov, who didn't have a point in the last 11 games, set up Kevin Hatcher high in the slot, but Hatcher missed by a country mile. Hunter did the same on the rebound of a Khristich shot and Tatarinov was stopped twice late in the period.

The Islanders, meanwhile, had just four shots in the period. King deflected in Gary Nylund's shot for a 1-1 tie 30 seconds into the period. Then King one-timed Pat Flatley's pass for a 2-1 lead with 3:40 left before the break.

"The mind starts going," Murray said. "You say, 'Is it ever going to happen for us? Are we ever going to get a goal to put us over the top?' "