Brodeur and Greene celebrate Wednesday's win. GETTY IMAGES.
Andy Greene saw an opening, jumped into the play and wound up scoring the game-winner Wednesday against the Islanders.
Greene’s fourth of the season broke a 2-2 tie with 4:56 to go in the third period, lifting the Devils to a 3-2 win in front of 16,252 at Prudential Center. It was the defenseman's first goal in 35 games.
A streaking Greene collected Patrik Elias’ cross-ice pass and took a shot from the left circle, beating Rick DiPietro inside the right post. That put New Jersey back on top after wasting a 2-0 lead in the third.
The victory ended a three-game winless skid and kept the Devils (35-36-5, 75 pts) within 12 points of the final playoff spot in the East with six games to go. Buffalo beat the Rangers, 1-0; both the Sabres and Rangers are tied in the standings with 87 points.
We have to play for our fans. We’re playing pretty good in the second half, but it seems like it’s not going to be enough. We’re still going to push to the end.- Ilya Kovalchuk
Frans Nielsen struck twice in the third, including a shorthanded goal, to draw the Islanders even with 6:16 to go. On the tying goal, Nielsen appeared to get his skate on a loose puck in the crease after a wraparound attempt by Matt Martin. After a video review, the on-ice ruling of a goal was allowed to stand.
Then, it was Greene to the rescue.
“Patty made a nice play going up the ice, and I just had a good open space there on the left side,” Greene said. “I was yelling for Patty a little early just to let him know I was there and he made a nice little pass back to me there. I was trying to shoot to score there and luckily it went in.”
Greene’s first goal since Jan. 8 capped an offensive charge for the Devils, who had been blanked in their last two games. On a night that saw New Jersey go 0-for-5 with the man advantage, including a four-minute power play in the third, Greene’s contribution was the difference.
Brodeur makes sprawling stop on Bailey late in third. GETTY IMAGES
“I was very excited for him,” said Kovalchuk, who also had an assist. “I thought the fans were going to go, ‘Greenie, Greenie, Greenie.’”
Kovalchuk blasted eight of the Devils’ 20 shots and showed no ill effects from the sore foot that caused him to miss practice on Monday. He collected his team-leading 28th at 4:17 of the first, and snapped New Jersey’s team-record goal drought at 178 minutes, 12 seconds.
The Devils had gone eight periods plus an overtime session since their last goal: Kovalchuk’s power-play marker last Tuesday in Boston.
“A win’s always good,” he said. “Finally we scored a goal, and three is a lot of goals for us. It’s nice. We’ll keep working on that. I think we put quite a bit of shots on net, and we were driving to the net, that’s why we created the chances.”
He used a Palmieri pass at the right hash marks to rip his seventh goal in 14 games past DiPietro. Seconds earlier, DiPietro had denied him on a partial breakaway.
Despite being a long-shot to make the postseason, Kovalchuk said the Devils still have plenty to compete for.
“We have to play for our fans,” he said. “We’re playing pretty good in the second half, but it seems like it’s not going to be enough. We’re still going to push to the end.”
Martin Brodeur made his 15th straight start and held off a late New York surge. He robbed Josh Bailey’s rebound chance from the doorstep with 1:04 left in regulation after DiPietro had been pulled for an extra skater. The Devils were outshot 14-3 in third, and Brodeur needed 27 saves to pick up his 23rd victory.
“Right now, to me, he’s at his best of the year,” Jacques Lemaire said of his netminder. “He plays with a lot of confidence, he’s a lot quicker in the net. I’m sure he feels good about his game right now. All that adds up.”
Lemaire thought his team got off to a better start than in recent games. Two goals in the first two periods proved significant.
“We drove at the net,” said Lemaire. “We made plays toward that net that gave us the chance to get these goals. It’s always good when the game starts, you’re playing well and then you get rewarded for it.”
Josefson gave the Devils a 2-0 lead in the second. Kovalchuk started the play inside the New York blue line, passing to Palmieri for a shot from the slot. DiPietro made the save, but lost the rebound and Josefson put home his third of the season at 3:23.
Nielsen's shorthanded effort got New York on the board in the third. Mark Katic was given a four-minute double-minor for high sticking Mark Fraser, and Nielsen picked off a Mattias Tedenby turnover at center ice to beat Brodeur on a breakaway at 9:38.
Replays showed Fraser was actually hit by a puck off Katic's stick. Fraser received four stitches to a cut above his right eye. It was a scary moment for the defenseman, who missed 34 games earlier this season with a broken hand.
“It took me a second to open my eye, but once I could see, I figured it was just a good cut,” Fraser said. “It felt like it hit directly on my eye, though, so it hurt a lot.”
Notes Zach Parise missed his 64th straight game, but announced that he expects to return to action Saturday when the Devils host Montreal. … Colin White and Anton Volchenkov missed their second straight games with lower body injuries. Lemaire said he had "no idea" if they would play Friday, when the Devils entertain Philadelphia. … The first period featured two fights: David Clarkson against Zenon Konopka and Jay Leach against Matt Martin.