NEWARK — Life without captain Anders Lee will not be easy for the Islanders.
But injuries bring opportunities, and rookie Kieffer Bellows made the most of his as he played for the first time in nearly a month.
Bellows scored twice within 3 minutes, 11 seconds in the third period, energizing the Islanders after two sluggish periods in a 3-2 win over the Devils on Saturday night at Prudential Center.
"He’s trying to make a statement," coach Barry Trotz said. "He sees an opportunity. He seized it for one game. Let’s see if he can do it again. I was impressed with his positional play. I was impressed with the goals he scored."
The East Division-leading Islanders (18-6-4) began a three-game road trip, which includes Sunday’s late matinee against the Devils to conclude a three-game series, by extending their winning streak to eight. They are on a 10-0-1 run.
"We just wanted to go out there and push the pace and really dominate that third," said Bellows, elevated from the taxi squad for his ninth game of the season. "Scoring one gives you confidence to go out there and make some more plays."
Lee is out for an indefinite period after injuring his right leg when Pavel Zacha fell over it in the first period of Thursday’s 5-3 win over the Devils at Nassau Coliseum. Saturday’s game snapped Lee’s ironman streak at 295 straight games dating to Jan. 24, 2017, the eighth-longest streak in the NHL and the third-longest in Islanders history.
Bellows was Trotz’s choice to insert for Lee on Mathew Barzal’s left wing along with Jordan Eberle as well as the net-front presence on the first power-play unit.
"We all know what Anders brings to the lineup, off the ice and on the ice," defenseman Scott Mayfield said. "So it’s a little more rope that we’re all going to have to tug on. Belly stepped in tonight and did really well."
Bellows tied the score at 2 at 1:59 of the third period with his first point of the season, snaking a pass to Barzal over the Devils’ blue line before getting a drop pass back and blistering a shot past Mackenzie Blackwood (26 saves) from the slot. He scored the winner at 5:10, skating toward the crease from the right wall and shielding the puck from Nathan Bastian before shifting the puck to his forehand and slipping it around Blackwood.
Tellingly, Trotz trusted Bellows enough to have him on the ice for a 1:02 shift that lasted until 16:28 of the third period.
The 19th overall pick in 2006 had not played since logging just 7:47 in a 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh on Feb. 18. Trotz was blunt at that time in his assessment that concerns about Bellows’ defensive play were the issue.
"Just being reliable and being consistent," Bellows said. "You’ve got to bring that energy every single game. You’ve got to be reliable in the defensive zone and defense leads to offense, so that’s what I’m focusing on."
Still, the Islanders looked disjointed and off their game until Bellows started scoring.
They were outshot 18-9 in the second period and Janne Kuokkanen gave the Devils a 2-1 lead at 1:04, diving to push the puck past Semyon Varlamov (26 saves) at the right post after Yegor Sharangovich’s initial shot bounced off the crossbar.
Zacha had given the Devils a 1-0 lead at 6:37 of the first period on a long wrister past Varlamov’s blocker. Rookie Oliver Wahlstrom tied the score at 1 at 17:58, skating up ice into the slot and unleashing a hard wrist shot.