As the Islanders continued to search for goals and a way to hang on to a lead in the third period without John Tavares to lean on, the solution suddenly became clear inside of 2:30 remaining in a 1-1 game with the Devils -- the fourth line.
An edgy, gritty game called for an edgy, gritty finish, and the Isles' consistent fourth line produced it. Matt Martin deflected Brian Strait's point shot on goal and Casey Cizikas fought off Andy Greene's check to jam the rebound behind Cory Schneider with 2:12 to go for a 2-1 Islanders win Tuesday night at Barclays Center that snapped a three-game winless skid.
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"They know who they are," Jack Capuano said of his rarely changed fourth line of Cizikas, Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. "They're not going to make the sexy play. They'll chip pucks and grind you down. Our other lines need to feed off that."
With the ill Tavares missing his third straight game and goals scarce, the Islanders could not extend a 1-0 lead achieved on Brock Nelson's greasy rebound goal 7:23 into the game.
Despite an NHL season-high 63 hits and a 34-24 shot advantage, the Islanders spent most of the game throwing single shots on Schneider and unable to crash and bang for more.
Worse still, the Isles were taking penalties in the second period, allowing the Devils to gain some confidence. Jaroslav Halak (23 saves) was equal to the task through 40 minutes and the Isles' top-ranked penalty kill was strong, but that left less time to dictate play and push for a two-goal lead.
For the third straight home game, that inability to seize control burned them in the third. Strait was whistled for a slash at 2:28; Kyle Palmieri's one-timer was blocked by Nick Leddy, but the puck caromed right onto Travis Zajac's stick and he beat Halak to even the game at 4:03.
"It was a lucky bounce and he made a good shot," Halak said. "But we didn't quit. We worked hard for 60 minutes tonight, which we didn't do the last three games and it hurt us. We outworked them."
That's the key to beating a skill-challenged Devils team, which had 15 good minutes to open Saturday's game between the two teams in Newark and then hung on to get to a shootout and defeat the Isles.
After Zajac's goal, the Islanders pressed and pestered the Devils to turn the tide. And it was Cizikas pushing to the crease with Greene's stick knocking his helmet off that appropriately won it, the sixth goal from the Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck trio through 13 games this season.
They combined for 24 all of last year.
"Absolutely, it was perfect," Anders Lee said. "Those three guys know when to step up. They're the reason we won."
And it was a much-needed two points after blowing leads to the Hurricanes (3-2 overtime loss) and Sabres (2-1 regulation loss) sandwiched around the shootout loss to the Devils last week. Another lost point or two coupled with the continued absence of Tavares could have produced a real funk.
"They were resilient," Capuano said. "Again without our captain."