The New York Islanders were less than two minutes away from beating the New Jersey Devils for the second time this week. But in a game that was awfully similar to an overtime loss at Washington less than two weeks ago, the Islanders were once again unable to hang on to a late lead.
Marek Zidlicky scored a power-play goal with 1:25 left in regulation -- just 14 seconds after David Clarkson erased a 1-0 deficit -- as the Devils rallied for an improbable 2-1 victory at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.
"That's why you've got to play right 'til the end ... the full 60 minutes," Isles center John Tavares said. "Obviously, that one stings."
Rookie goalie Anders Nilsson, who blanked New Jersey 1-0 last Sunday, finished with 33 saves for the Isles. Tavares broke a scoreless tie 6:46 into the third period.
"I think I can have both of their goals," the 6-foot-5 goaltender said. "It's hard to be excited (about my performance). We play hockey to win and to get those two points. Today, we didn't get any points, so it's hard to be excited afterwards."
Clarkson tied it with 1:39 remaining, squeezing the puck just inside the right post past Nilsson for his 28th goal. Zidlicky gave the Devils the lead five seconds after PA Parenteau took an unnecessary boarding penalty deep in New Jersey's zone.
The Devils (39-24-5), who won two of three from the Islanders this week, have won three straight games and four of their last five. New Jersey has allowed one goal or fewer in five straight games and received a 23-save performance from Johan Hedberg.
"I was just trying to get it somewhere on the net," Clarkson said of his goal. "I don't have the skill to pick my spot right there, but I was just trying to get it somewhere on his glove hand and just squeak (it) through.
"I think we felt as a team that if we kept on him, kept shooting the puck, kept doing the little things that it would eventually go in. We had to keep working, and we did and I think that's why we were successful."
Tavares had given the Islanders the lead with his 27th goal, scoring off a setup by linemates Matt Moulson and Parenteau. Tavares took Parenteau's passout and snapped a wrist shot past Hedberg for his first point against the Devils this season.
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 had stopped Micheal Haley on a breakaway two minutes earlier.
"He made some real big saves for us," Isles coach Jack Capuano said of Nilsson. "I thought both goaltenders made some big saves, but our guy stood in there tall tonight. I really liked the way that he played."
The Devils are 13-6-1 since All-Star break and have exceeded their win and point total from last season, when they missed the playoffs. New Jersey will host Philadelphia on Sunday night.
"We found a way ... I liked our perseverance," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "I liked the fact we didn't panic. It would have been a crime not to get the win for (Hedberg). He gave us a chance. He was our best player tonight."
With the regulation loss, the Islanders (28-31-9) find themselves nine points behind Washington for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Isles will visit the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
"Mentally, we've got to stay strong ... we've got to stay focused," Capuano said. "This is obviously a tough loss. We just have to regroup."
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report