NEWARK, N.J. -- A homegrown defense backed by another stellar performance by goaltender Cory Schneider led the New Jersey Devils to a 3-1 victory against the Nashville Predators at Prudential Center on Tuesday.
Defensemen Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas scored goals in the first period, Mike Cammalleri was credited with an empty-net goal, and Schneider made 33 saves in his NHL-leading 55th start to give the Devils their second straight win. New Jersey (27-27-10) trails the Boston Bruins by seven points for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
"We don't have a lot of wins against the top teams in the League and I think that's a point of pride that you want to feel you can beat anybody in this League," Schneider, who is 24-23-6, said. "They had us on our heels in the second period but we had control or were even in the first and third; we showed great energy and intensity."
Schneider has allowed six goals in his past five games.
"What's there to say," Cammalleri said when asked about Schneider. "It's such a moot point now, if that makes any sense. You just know he's going to be solid every night. When we needed him, he was out top penalty killer and made the saves. I can't say enough about what he does."
Hutton went to the bench to give the Predators an extra attacker with 2:40 remaining in the third, but the Predators got one shot and Cammalleri was credited with a goal when he was tripped by Seth Jones when he was into the Predators end on a breakaway with 1:14 remaining.
Getting the job done in front of Schneider in the final minutes of the game was a defense that included five New Jersey draft picks (Larsson, Gelinas, Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, Mark Fraser), and one undrafted free agent signee (Andy Greene). Fraser was drafted by the Devils in 2005, traded in 2011, and signed as a free agent in 2014.
"It's always sad to see such a good guy (Zidlicky) and good player not be here anymore but for us young guys we have to realize we can't just be happy to be here," Larsson said. "We have to put in the work even though he's gone. It's always sad to see people leave but we have to step up now."
Severson was in the lineup for the first time since Dec. 15. The 20-year-old sustained a fractured ankle blocking a shot by Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin on Dec. 6, and played five more games before missing the next 31 matches.
"It didn't look like [Severson] missed a beat and was solid," Schneider said. "Gelinas and Larsson got those goals and that's an added bonus. In the third period, we played like a five-man unit and are getting better at closing out these tight games."
The Devils continue their three-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. Lamoriello was proud of his team's effort.
"It was pretty close to a complete game where it was one of our better games where everyone contributed," Lamoriello said. "We scored on the power play, killed some penalties in the second when they had momentum and in the third picked up where we were in the first."
The Predators (41-17-7), who entered the game atop the NHL with 41 wins and 89 points, have lost a season-high four straight games during which they have been outscored 15-7. Nashville returns home for two games beginning Thursday against the New York Islanders.
"This happens to every team and the concern is if you don't grow or learn from it; we need to find a way because come playoffs we'll have adversity and we'll have to find ways," Fisher said. "This is where you really learn. No one wants to be here but when you are here you have to fight through it, get through it and maybe you'll remember how to do it next time."
The Predators pulled within 2-1 early in the second when Fisher pounced on a rebound and scored at the left post at 2:11. The goal seemed to ignite Nashville, which outshot the Devils 21-6 in the period.
"We decided to do little things right [in the second] and it seems like we're not just giving up the first goal but early goals and teams get life off of that," Fisher said.
The Predators allowed the first goal for the ninth straight game (3-5-1), something forward Mike Ribeiro said on Monday was beginning to wear on the team. Predators coach Peter Laviolette looked to spark his offense by shuffling his line combinations and inserted Calle Jarnkrok, a healthy scratch against the New York Rangers on Monday, into the lineup.
Hutton was making his first start in five games after Pekka Rinne had lost three straight.
"We're still at the top and right there and confident and I have a lot of belief in this group," Fisher said. "Sometimes you go through these and have to learn from it. We have time to get rolling and feel good again."
The Devils took a 2-0 lead in the opening four minutes of the game, and outshot the Predators 9-3 in the first period. Laviolette called timeout following the Gelinas goal to settle his team down. The Predators, who were coming off a 4-1 loss against the Rangers on Monday, were playing their third game in four nights.
Larsson took a pass from Patrik Elias at the right hash off a 3-on-3 rush and scored into the top left corner 58 seconds into the game to give the Devils a 1-0 lead. Gelinas scored a power-play goal off a slap shot from the point at 3:57 to extend the lead to 2-0.
"As of late, we've liked our mentality and team game," Cammalleri said. "We're playing well everyone is buying in no matter who's name is called. Guys are playing the same way and that's when you can rely on one another. We're hoping that continues to yield results for us."
Nashville forward Eric Nystrom sustained a lower-body injury on his second shift of the second period and did not return to the game.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL