NEWARK — The Islanders’ Thursday showdown with the Capitals was certainly big, but Friday’s game here with the plucky Devils was much bigger in terms of the playoff hunt.
And the Islanders responded well, particularly in goal. Jaroslav Halak shook off a string of poor outings to stop all 27 Devils shots in a 1-0 win that moved the Islanders four points ahead of the ninth-place Devils in the tight race for an Eastern Conference postseason berth.
“Every night from now on is going to be like this,” said Halak, who recorded his third shutout of the season and won for just the second time in his last six starts, from two of which he was pulled early. “After a couple rough starts I wasn’t feeling great, but you just have to forget about it. It’s just how you react the next game.”
He got an early lead to work with on Friday. Jack Capuano started his fourth line to open the game in a sold-out Prudential Center, sensing that the hard-working Devils would require a solid effort from the Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck trio.
That line produced the only goal of the night just 1:59 in. Nick Leddy rushed up the left wing and fired a shot that Cory Schneider turned into the slot. That’s where Casey Cizikas was driving the lane and the puck caromed off Cizikas’ leg and behind Schneider.
“When we have these back-to-backs, that’s when our line has to play our style,” Cizikas said. “We weren’t trying anything pretty, we were just playing hard out there.”
The Devils tested Halak more than a few times, including an early breakdown that led to Reid Boucher walking in alone to ring one off the post a few minutes after Cizikas’ goal.
Halak’s biggest stop came early in the third. After another giveaway, the Devils had a two-on-Halak right on the doorstep. Joe Blandisi fed Lee Stempniak for what looked like a slam-dunk to tie it but Halak flashed the right pad to keep it out.
“He kept us in the game,” Cizikas said. “That one was huge.”
The Isles had chances to extend the lead as well, none better than a five-minute power play in the second period when Jordin Tootoo shoved Johnny Boychuk from behind and into the end boards. Boychuk, who missed 11 games with a shoulder injury, got up slowly and smashed his stick on the bench as he went to the dressing room.
Tootoo went to his room as well, given a major for cross-checking and a game misconduct. Boychuk luckily had only a stinger and returned for the third period.
“Obviously you’re mad because it’s a nothing play, there’s no reason for it,” said Boychuk, who was seen chatting with Tootoo outside the teams’ dressing rooms after the game. “Obviously (the shoulder) was a concern. When you’re just back from a shoulder injury and that happens it’s kind of scary.”
The Isles’ power play was a bit of a nightmare as well, generating only one shot over the five minutes. But the Isles clamped down in the third, with Stempniak’s golden chance the only real Devils scoring opportunity from a dangerous area in the third, when the Isles allowed only seven shots on Halak.
So the Islanders, who were 104 seconds away from getting nothing on Thursday, pulled out one point against the high-flying Capitals with the overtime loss, and two more on Friday.
“We just needed the two points,” Halak said. “We got a huge point last night and now we just need big efforts from everybody each time we go out there.”