Kyle Palmieri #21 of the Islanders celebrates his second period goal...

Kyle Palmieri #21 of the Islanders celebrates his second period goal against the New Jersey Devils at UBS Arena on Monday, Mar. 27, 2023 in Elmont. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders executed their game plan, which was to use their physicality to slow down the speedy, playoff-bound Devils, particularly in establishing their forecheck and clogging the neutral zone.

It was not quite a playoff-style performance – per players in the know – but Monday night’s 5-1 win over the Devils at UBS Arena to snap a two-game losing streak was a huge step toward securing the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot for the Islanders.

“It was tight,” said Kyle Palmieri, who scored twice and had three points. “There wasn’t a lot of chances. Jersey played, not a run-and-gun, but they like to use their speed and get chances off the rush and we were able to try and limit it. Even though maybe, for us, it was a little back-and-forth, it was one of those things where we were in a good spot defensively.”

Ilya Sorokin made 30 saves for the Islanders (38-28-9), including 14 in the third period as the Devils (46-20-8) mounted a sustained attack. But Palmieri snapped in a shot at 15:25 of the third period after the Devils turned the puck over deep in their zone to make it 3-1 and Bo Horvat, with his first goal in 12 games, and Zach Parise, shorthanded, added empty-netters.

The Islanders moved three points ahead of the Penguins, who hold the second wild-card spot and have played two fewer games. The Panthers, who lost their fourth straight, are six points behind the Islanders and have played one fewer game.

“I thought we stayed on top of them as best as we possibly could,” coach Lane Lambert said. “I thought, to a man, everybody worked. There weren’t any passengers and, certainly, full marks to our guys for the effort they put in.

“Our neutral zone has been pretty good for quite a stretch now. We just stick to our structure and we know what that is – try to nullify some of the rush teams. Physicality, it’s part of our game.”

The Islanders outhit the Devils 24-13 with defenseman Alexander Romanov credited with a game-high six hits.

The Islanders, who lost 2-0 to the visiting Sabres on Saturday after being defeated 5-4 in overtime in Columbus the night before, are still 15-5-4 since Jan. 27. They have a 9-3-0 mark in that span against teams currently holding playoff spots.

The Devils’ Vitek Vanecek made 31 saves against the Islanders’ revamped lines as Lambert separated Horvat and Anders Lee for the first time in 16 games. But Brock Nelson’s intact line with Palmieri and Pierre Engvall combined for three goals and an assist.

“It’s been way more physical in a playoff game,” said Engvall, who has played in the postseason with the Maple Leafs. “But, still, it was a hard game. I think we did a good job.”

Engvall opened the scoring at 7:37 of the first period as he got to the crease to knock in the rebound of Palmieri’s initial shot.

Palmieri regained a 2-1 lead for the Islanders at 14:21 of the second period as he circled the crease and waited patiently skating through the low slot before roofing a backhander.

“I saw Nellie come down through the slot,” Palmieri said. “I wanted him first. It ended up being just a bit of a cluster in there. I found some space and tried to get a shot off.”

Erik Haula’s shorthanded goal at 6:15 of the second tied it at 1-1 and the Devils had a potential third-period equalizer waved off – and confirmed via video review – as it was ruled Tomas Tatar kicked the puck into the net at 8:54 of the third period.

More Islanders


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months