NEWARK - The Islanders worked for the lead. They leaned on their goaltender a bit too much in the second period, but Jaroslav Halak worked to keep the precious lead. And then, finally, the Islanders scored that elusive second goal, paving the way for a reasonably hard-working victory.
The 3-0 win over the Devils Saturday night at the Prudential Center snapped the Islanders' four-game slide and just in time: Failure to get points again against the Devils, with the Penguins and Capitals both playing and nipping at the Islanders' heels in the race for home ice in the opening round of the playoffs, could have spelled more disappointment.
Instead, there was relief at having gotten the lead on the stingy Devils, then maintaining and carrying it through on the strength of Halak's 26 saves as he recorded his fifth shutout of the season. And there were good contributions from Ryan Strome, among others.
"They're a team that can shut it down, so it was good to get the lead," said Strome, who scored his 15th goal of the season at 7:37 of the first period off a strong play by Nikolay Kulemin to win the puck in the corner of the Devils' zone. "We knew to get off this losing skid, we'd need kind of a greasy game."
It wasn't quite as greasy as Jack Capuano would have liked, especially in the middle period, when the Isles gave up a couple of odd-man rushes to the Devils that Halak had to fend off. His best saves came in the third period, when he stopped Steve Bernier on a two-on-one and then Scott Gomez on the rebound to keep the score 1-0.
"I thought we played better against the Rangers [a 2-1 loss], part of the game against the Canadiens [a 3-1 loss], to be honest," Capuano said. "We had some breakdowns on the forecheck in the second and our goaltender came up big."
The Islanders didn't convert on their only power play of the game midway through the third period, but it was as if they scored that second goal with the advantage. Stephen Gionta was barely back in the play when Strome fed Travis Hamonic for a one-timer to beat Cory Schneider with 7:41 left, making it the first game in the last five in which the Isles scored more than one goal.
Brock Nelson had the other assist on Hamonic's goal, and it was the Kid Line of Strome, Nelson and Anders Lee that played best Saturday night.
"They played with that swagger, that confidence you need," Capuano said. "Our best line."
Kyle Okposo scored into an empty net with 37.7 seconds to go, his first point in five games since his return from eye surgery. John Tavares snapped a four-game point drought with an assist on that goal.
Even if it were just the outcome that changed from the four straight losses, the Islanders felt better about themselves after sweeping the four-game season series with the Devils.
"We had a few tough games. We didn't start well in any of them," Kulemin said. "We wanted to be ready from the first second tonight, start to do what we're supposed to do. Sometimes you don't know what to do to get out of a losing streak, but we did the right things tonight."