UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Marek Zidlicky picked the perfect time for his first goal of the season and his first since joining the New Jersey Devils.
The veteran defenceman, acquired two weeks earlier from the Minnesota Wild, scored with 1:25 left in the third period—just 14 seconds after teammate David Clarkson tied the game—to lift the resilient Devils past the New York Islanders 2-1 on Saturday night.
New Jersey (39-24-5), which won two of three from the Islanders this week, has three consecutive victories and wins in four of five. The Devils are 4-1-1 in their last six games and have allowed one goal or fewer in five straight games.
“My plan always is to take shots from everywhere and push hard every shift,” said the 35-year-old Zidlicky, whose slap shot from the right point eluded rookie goalie Anders Nilsson. “It was a chance for me to step up, and a great way to get my first goal here.”
The Devils, who outscored the Islanders 7-2 in their two wins this week, are 13-6-1 since the All-Star break and have exceeded their win and point totals from last season when they missed the playoffs. With 83 points, they are sixth in the Eastern Conference.
“We showed character. We played hard,” said winning goalie Johan Hedberg, who made the start after Martin Brodeur recorded successive home victories over New York’s Islanders and Rangers this week. “We knew if we kept pushing, something good would happen.”
For the Islanders, it was a demoralizing loss.
Nilsson, the 21-year-old Swedish goalie, was less than two minutes from his second straight shutout over the Devils. He beat New Jersey 1-0 last Sunday for his first NHL win, becoming the first Islanders player to get victory No. 1 via a shutout.
“You play hockey to win, and it’s hard to be excited when you don’t win,” said Nilsson, who made 33 saves in his third NHL start. “I felt like I should have stopped both goals.”
The loss pushed the Islanders (28-31-9) nine points behind eighth-place Washington in the Eastern Conference. New York is 14th in the East, ahead of only Montreal.
John Tavares broke the scoreless tie 6:46 into the third period, and Nilsson seemed poised to celebrate another shutout. The Devils’ late surge stunned Tavares and the sellout crowd at Nassau Coliseum.
“You never expect something like that,” Tavares said. “It stings.”
Clarkson tied it with 1:39 remaining, squeezing the puck past Nilsson for his 28th goal, and Zidlicky quickly gave the Devils the lead while New York’s P.A. Parenteau was in the penalty box for boarding.
Tavares scored his 27th goal of the season, off a setup by linemates Matt Moulson and Parenteau. Tavares snapped in a wrist shot past Hedberg from the slot.
Nilsson was called up from Bridgeport on Feb. 29. He was the AHL goalie of the month for February by going 6-0-1.
“It took us 118 minutes to solve him, but we finally did,” Devils captain Zach Parise said. “They made us work for it. He was very good.”
Nilsson made a key glove save at 18:44 of the second period on a snap shot by Dainius Zubrus from the left circle. Hedberg stopped Micheal Haley on a breakaway at 16:47 of the second.
The Islanders will face the East-leading Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.
“It’s how we regroup after this one that counts,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “Both goaltenders played well and there was a physical edge to our game. But we go 0-for-3 on the power play and that was the difference.”
NOTES: The Devils’ record for fastest two goals is 8 seconds, by John Madden and Patrik Elias on April 6, 2001, against Boston. … Parenteau earned his 45th assist of the season, the most by an Islanders player since Travis Green had 45 in the 1995-96 season. … The Islanders were without forwards Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin because of the flu. Right wing Michael Grabner returned after missing three games with the flu. … The Islanders recalled Haley from Bridgeport on Saturday. They also signed undrafted 20-year-old forward Mike Halmo, who led Owen Sound of the OHL with 40 goals and 44 assists.