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NEWARK, N.J. – For a franchise with three Stanley Cup championships and a long list of postseason appearances, the modern-day New Jersey Devils find themselves having to learn the lessons their predecessors knew by rote.
Games such as Saturday night's 3-2 win over the New York Islanders could go a long way toward shaping the organization's future.
Just ask head coach John Hynes.
"It was a playoff atmosphere," coach John Hynes said. "This is where you grow. This is where we're trying to grow out our team and grow our organization to get back (to the postseason), learn how to play in these games and (be) a team that can contend."
Cory Schneider made 40 saves and Travis Zajac had a short-handed goal and an assist to lead the Devils. Devante Smith-Pelley and Pavel Zacha also scored for New Jersey (25-23-10), which finished 3-2-0 on its longest homestand of the season.
"The most important thing is that we won," Smith-Pelley said.
New York dropped to 26-21-10, including 7-13-4 on the road. Andrew Ladd and Anthony Beauvillier scored for the Islanders, while Thomas Greiss made 18 saves.
Schneider stopped a penalty shot by John Tavares.
"We're going to have to win on the road if we're going to do anything," Islanders interim coach Doug Weight said.
The first of four regular-season meetings between the Metropolitan Division rivals — and the first half of a weekend home-and-home — was a matchup of teams trying to make up ground in the playoff race.
The Islanders are one point behind Toronto for the final Eastern Conference wild card, while New Jersey trails the Maple Leafs by three points following Toronto's 6-3 loss to Ottawa.
"The concern is you lose points," Weight said. "We're in the playoff race."
Sprung by Zajac's pass off the boards, Smith-Pelley opened the scoring at 7:10 of the first period with a backhand that beat Greiss between the legs.
"I was super relieved to contribute," Smith-Pelley said. "That goal kind of got us started."
Exactly a minute later, Schneider kept the Devils ahead with a blocker save on Tavares' penalty shot. Tavares was awarded the try when he was hooked on the arm by Zajac to thwart a semi-breakaway.
"(Tavares) likes to come in slow and pick up (a) little speed and play in tight," Schneider said. "I had to be patient and hold my ground."
Zajac's short-handed wrist shot from the left circle at 8:49 of the second doubled the Devils' lead. Tavares fell and lost the puck in the offensive end, allowing Zajac to counterattack with Adam Henrique on a 2-on-1.
Zacha added a power-play goal 6:21 into the third, but the Islanders mounted a comeback sparked by Ladd's goal at 8:58. Hynes used his coach's challenge to see if Tavares interfered with Schneider, but the ruling on the ice was upheld after a replay review.
The Islanders closed within one on Beauvillier's snap shot off the rush at 13:48.
New York outshot the Devils 42-21.
"The first 20 (minutes) wasn't great," Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan said. "But the last 40, like I said, I thought we carried play."
NOTES: New Jersey finished 1 for 2 with the man advantage and killed off all three New York power plays. ... Before the game, the Devils acquired D Viktor Loov from Toronto for C Sergey Kalinin. New Jersey assigned the 24-year-old Loov to its AHL affiliate in Albany, New York. Loov has 42 points (11 goals, 31 assists) and 127 penalty minutes in 170 AHL games. ... The Devils scratched LW Michael Cammalleri, who has not scored a goal since Jan. 3, a stretch of 18 games. In 51 games this season, Cammalleri has 10 goals, which is tied for third on the team with Zajac. Smith-Pelley dressed in Cammalleri's place. New Jersey also scratched D Seth Helgeson. ... New York RW Cal Clutterbuck missed his eighth straight game with a lower-body injury, and Islanders D Travis Hamonic sat out his 19th consecutive game with a lower-body injury. ... The Islanders scratched C Shane Prince and C Adam Pelech. ... The game was the second half of a day-night doubleheader at Prudential Center. No. 2 Villanova routed Seton Hall 92-70 in the men's college basketball game earlier in the day. ... The announced attendance was 16,514.
The teams meet again Sunday night in Brooklyn.