Newark, NJ – Evgeni Nabokov made 24 saves to backstop the postseason hopeful New York Islanders to a critical 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
The Islanders remained tied with the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but closed within two points of seventh-place New Jersey with their fourth win in five games.
"When you win it's always fun and everyone was chipping in tonight," said Nabokov. "I think that when you're winning, it's because everyone is doing the little things."
Martin Brodeur stopped 18 shots for a Devils club that has dropped four straight. The three previous setbacks had come after regulation.
"Last year we were in a similar situation and we won our last six games, or something like that, to get in the playoffs," said Brodeur. "We just have to find a way to start scraping away."
The Islanders jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period behind goals by Josh Bailey and Travis Hamonic.
Bailey lit the lamp 52 seconds after the game's opening faceoff, capping a nifty passing sequence that began with a Kyle Okposo collecting a stretch pass at the red line. Okposo quickly dished to Frans Nielsen to create a 2-on-1 rush and Nielsen saucered the puck over to Bailey, who beat Brodeur with a backhander.
Hamonic was able to put a soft shot from the right point past Brodeur at the 7:14 mark.
Alexei Ponikarovsky put New Jersey on the board when he used the backhand to direct Patrik Elias's pass through the pads of Nabokov at 8:01 of the second frame.
The Islanders regained a two-goal cushion near the midway point of the third period. Brodeur pushed Lubomir Visnovsky's bid away with his paddle, but the puck went right to John Tavares and he buried it for a power-play goal at 9:13.
New Jersey forward Dainius Zubrus returned to the lineup after missing 26 games. He underwent surgery to repair ligament damage in his left wrist on Feb. 14 ... The Islanders improved to 11-5-1 on the road this season.