The New York Islanders' last four games have been must-wins — and Jaroslav Halak has won them all.
Halak stopped 29 shots in his second shutout of the season, and the fast-starting Islanders beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 on Thursday night.
Brock Nelson and Scott Mayfield scored early goals 3 minutes, 12 seconds apart, and Andrew Ladd added a power-play goal to help the Islanders earn their fourth straight victory and preserve their long-shot playoff hopes for a little while longer.
"Obviously, we're in a tough situation where we have to rely on other things to happen outside of our games, but we're a resilient group and we've fought out of a lot of stuff this year, and we're not going to go down easy," left winger Anders Lee said. "We're going to give it our all and make sure we win these last (few) games. We were in a situation where we had to win out with six left. So we're four wins into it."
The Islanders could have been eliminated with a win by Toronto but pulled three points behind the Maple Leafs, who later lost 4-1 to Tampa Bay.
Eddie Lack stopped 20 shots for the Hurricanes, who lost their fourth straight overall, a slide that coincides with their mathematical elimination from the playoff race for the eighth straight year — the longest active postseason drought in the NHL. They've also been shut out in their last two home games.
"That's hard to watch, right?" Carolina coach Bill Peters asked rhetorically.
Halak won his fourth straight start since his recall from Bridgeport of the AHL, and his first shutout since blanking Washington on Dec. 1 — and 41st of his career — came in a must-win scenario for his team.
"I think the biggest factor, honestly, has been Jaro — Jaro's been a rock back there for us," Ladd said. "He's been solid ever since he's got back. ... He gives us confidence in front of him to do the right things."
A loss to Carolina, and the Islanders would have been assured of missing the playoffs — just like the Hurricanes, who were eliminated two nights earlier.
Right from the opening drop of the puck, the Islanders played like a team that had something to play for, while Carolina was noticeably less crisp.
"I thought we were flat," Peters said, "and stayed flat."
Nelson scored the game's first goal 87 seconds in when he pushed the puck off a skate past Lack, and Mayfield made it 2-0 at 4:39 when he backhanded a rebound past the Carolina goalie.
Ladd then effectively ended it 39 seconds into the second, when — with Victor Rask serving a double-minor for whacking Nelson in the face with his stick — he beat Lack with a snap shot from the circle to make it a three-goal game.
"Any time you pop a couple really quick, it really sets a tone for the game and it puts them in a hole," Lee said. "We just kind of stuck with our game plan, played a simple game and didn't let them back in."
NOTES: The Islanders improved to 36-8-3 when scoring at least three goals. ... Islanders captain John Tavares missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury. ... Carolina LW Bryan Bickell skated in his first home game since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His first game came two nights earlier at Minnesota.
Islanders: Wrap up a four-game road trip on Saturday night at New Jersey.
Hurricanes: Host St. Louis on Saturday night in their home finale.