Frans Nielsen leads Islanders to shootout win over Devils

Frans Nielsen of the Islanders celebrates his second

Frans Nielsen of the Islanders celebrates his second period goal against the New Jersey Devils at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, March 29, 2014. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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It seems a bit unlikely that the Islanders' most durable player this season would be one of their smallest players. But Thomas Hickey didn't just make it through Game 74 Saturday night, he made one of the biggest plays.

His sliding block to disrupt Marek Zidlicky's scoring chance in overtime preserved a 1-1 tie, and the Islanders grabbed the extra point in the shootout at Nassau Coliseum.

With only eight games left in a 29-35-10 season, the 2-1 win is only a matter of pride for the Islanders, but the Devils -- 0-10 in shootouts this season -- desperately needed that second point to keep up in the Eastern Conference wild-card chase.

Instead, Hickey and the Islanders walked off with it.

The 25-year-old defenseman, generously listed at 6 feet and 184 pounds, has contributed plenty of smart plays this season to make up for his being tossed around by opposing forwards on occasion.

"To play with the heart and desire he plays with -- you want 20 guys who play like that," coach Jack Capuano said. "You can't teach that."

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The Islanders are in full evaluation mode, especially with their defense. Since Andrew MacDonald's trade, Brian Strait's season-ending broken hand and Lubomir Visnovsky's latest concussion-related absence, Hickey has become one of the more experienced Islanders defensemen.

"I guess if you go by games played, but I still feel like I'm learning the game and I'm an inexperienced guy," said Hickey, who was drafted fourth overall by the Kings in 2007 and came to the Islanders on the waiver wire before last season. "All of us are learning on the go back there."

And doing reasonably well. The Devils are no offensive powerhouse, with only 24 shots in 65 minutes Saturday night, but the Islanders now have held opponents to two or fewer goals in four of the last six games after doing so once in the previous 10. The Islanders are 4-1-1 in those past six.

Anders Nilsson made 23 saves and two in the shootout, with Frans Nielsen scoring the lone regulation goal and one of the two in the shootout.

"We're really stressing simplicity: Pop pucks out of the zone as quick as you can," Hickey said.

The Islanders have allowed a league-high 247 goals, so it begs the question: Why not play that way regardless of who's on defense?

"It may seem like a simple game at times, but it's complicated,'' Hickey said. "There are times you want to hold the puck and try to make a play, and we've had guys in the lineup at other times who are really good at that."

Notes & quotes: Nilsson was frustrated with his two previous outings, a 6-0 loss to the Wild and a 5-4 win over the Hurricanes, in which he thought he was too eager to make saves and lost his balance once he dropped to his knees. "I was biting too hard on the first move," he said. "Tonight I was trying to keep my chest up, I was more patient and waiting for the puck to come to me." . . . Adam Henrique had the only Devils goal. New Jersey has scored only once on 30 shootout attempts this season.

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