Any and all jokes about "Fort Neverwin" finally can be put aside.
The Islanders got their first-ever victory in their eighth game at the $1.1 billion UBS Arena on Saturday night, topping New Jersey, 4-2, with two goals from former Devils. They finally were able to salute the sellout crowd of 17,255 from center ice after the final buzzer.
"It was amazing," said Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who completed the scoring with a one-timer set up by Oliver Wahlstrom at 9:37 of the third period. "I think we all had the chills at the end. Just hearing everyone coming up together, we feel it on the bench. They were there the whole game. Even when we were trailing, you could hear them cheering for us."
"Let’s face it," said former Devil Zach Parise, who scored a shorthanded breakaway goal at 16:33 of the second period to make it 3-2 and give him his first goal as an Islander on what would have been the 80th birthday of his late father, former Islander J.P. Parise. "This was as close to a must-win as we’ve had all season. To come out and finally give our home crowd a win is really important for us."
The Islanders (7-11-5) improved to 1-5-2 at UBS Arena, which replaced venerable Nassau Coliseum. That barn had been affectionately nicknamed "Fort Neverlose."
Centers Casey Cizikas and Brock Nelson returned, leaving injured defenseman Ryan Pulock (lower body) as the only unavailable Islander. Nelson missed seven games with a lower-body injury and on Nov. 27, Cizikas became the eighth — and, so far, last — Islander to test positive for COVID-19. He missed five games.
Ilya Sorokin made 30 saves, keeping the Islanders’ deficit at one goal by turning aside Andreas Johnsson’s breakaway at 2:32 of the second period. He followed with 13 saves in the third period.
"That was huge," Trotz said. "That sort of reset him. In the first period, I was going he’s not feeling it tonight and not seeing it. He makes a big save and then he settled in the rest of the night. I thought he was outstanding after that. Ilya is one of those guys that can give that save that can get you the momentum back."
The Devils (10-11-5), now in a 3-8-3 skid, placed captain Nico Hischier and defenseman Ryan Graves in the COVID-19 protocols before the game. Goalie Akira Schmid, 21, fourth on the organizational depth chart, made his NHL debut.
The Islanders didn’t get their first shot on the Swiss-born Schmid (25 saves), who has only 10 games of AHL experience, until 9:14 of the first period when he stopped Anders Lee’s tip-in at the crease.
Schmid allowed two goals on seven shots in the second period, with light-shooting former Devils captain Andy Greene connecting on an unscreened wrist shot from the right to tie it at 2 at 8:33. It was Greene’s first goal in 33 games and the 51st he’s scored in 1,007 career games, the first 923 with the Devils.
"It was awesome to see Greener get one, especially against his old team," said defenseman Noah Dobson, whose power-play goal tied it at 1 at 17:15 of the first period and was sandwiched by two Devils goals within 84 seconds. "You can see the excitement on his face."
Then came Parise’s winner.
"There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and what he did for me," he said of his father. "I had a good feeling coming to the rink today, just knowing it was his birthday. For me, it was pretty emotional when that puck went in. My mind goes right to him."