-- New Jersey kept its paper-thin playoff hopes alive when defenseman Andy Greene
scored his first goal in almost three months, beating Rick DiPietro
with 4:56 left, to give the Devils a 3-2 victory against the New York Islanders
on Wednesday at Prudential Center.
Despite the victory, just the second in seven games (2-4-1), the Devils failed to gain any ground on the Buffalo Sabres for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by virtue of the latter's 1-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Wednesday. New Jersey would have to win all of its remaining six games and have the Rangers or seventh-place Buffalo -- both with 87 points -- lose all five of theirs in regulation to catch either club.
"Well, what can you say at this point … it's not over till it's over," Greene told NHL.com. "You're not out there looking at the scoreboard every day. You just let things play out and see what happens. That's what we're doing."
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur
, who notched his career-best 48th victory against the Islanders, played a big role in the victory with several of his 27 saves coming down the stretch when the resilient Islanders pressed for the equalizer.
Brodeur, however, knows the chances of qualifying for the playoffs a 14th straight season are thin.
"Even though the playoffs are out of reach it doesn't mean you can't win games," he said. "It's definitely different territory for us. We know it's going to be over on April 10 come six o'clock." The Devils' final regular-season game is a matinee affair against the Boston Bruins on April 10.
Greene's goal came 1:20 after the Islanders has squared the contest at 2-2 on Frans Nielsen
's second goal of the game. The defenseman took a saucer pass from Patrik Elias
and skated down his left wing before beating DiPietro to the far side. It was Greene's first goal since Jan. 8.
"Patty made a great backhand saucer pass and (Dainius Zubrus
) was going hard to the net so I just didn't want to miss the net and give them a chance because three or four of us were down low. I'm shooting to score, but also looking for a rebound there too since guys were going to the net.
"The goal was a relief. We gave them a lot of life there (in the third). It was important for us to get back there, play hard and not let this one slip away."
The Islanders rallied from a 2-0 deficit after two periods to even the game on a pair of goals by Nielsen. His first came at 9:38 with the Isles killing a four-minute high-sticking call to rookie defenseman Mark Katic
"We made it really interesting for the fans," Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk
told NHL.com. "So, Greeny's goal was big. He jumped up in the play and Patty made a good pass."
Nielsen, whose NHL-leading seventh shorthanded goal came off an ill-advised turnover by Mattias Tedenby
at the Islanders' blue line, broke away from Brian Rolston
and Greene before backhanding a shot over a fallen Brodeur.
"I knew who it was coming down and I remembered the shootout goal he had (in a 3-2 victory on March 6) on the backhand, but I couldn't get momentum enough," Brodeur said. "It's different in a shootout and on a regular breakaway. But I didn't get too far out to get speed in on his backhand. I came out flat and he raised it over me."
Brodeur has made 15 straight starts, going 9-5-1 and yielding more than two goals just twice -- both losses -- over that stretch. According to coach Jacques Lemaire, he's been playing his best hockey of the season.
"He plays with confidence and is a lot quicker in the net," Lemaire said. "I'm sure he feels good about his game right now and that all that adds up."
Nielsen got the equalizer at 13:44 when he jammed the crease in front of Brodeur before getting his stick on a loose puck that initially had caromed off his skate blade. A video review confirmed the goal.
Kovalchuk had a goal and an assist and rookie Nick Palmieri
notched the first multiple-point game of his career with a pair of assists for the Devils.
"Nick created a lot of room for me and Trav (Zajac)," Kovalchuk said. "He's a big kid and can pass the puck really. He got a couple chances too, and our line played pretty good."
While happy to see Palmieri notch a two-point night, Lemaire would like to his young wing become an even more defensively responsible player.
"That whole line (Kovalchuk-Zajac-Palmieri) played good," Lemaire said. "Every time (Palmieri) moves the puck, he must get back and this is one thing we've tried to work with him. Sometimes he forgets and feels it's not as important, but he's getting better. If he keeps doing it, he'll be a pretty good player."
The Devils opened a 2-0 lead 3:23 into the second when rookie Jacob Josefson
gathered a rebound at the right hash before slipping a shot behind DiPietro. DiPietro stopped Palmieri's initial shot from between the circle but had no idea where the rebound went until Josefson put it into the net.
A spirited first period was highlighted by a couple of fights and Kovalchuk's team-leading 28th goal. Just 1:57 into the game, New Jersey's David Clarkson
scraped with NHL penalty-minutes leader Zenon Konopka. Two minutes later, Kovalchuk was stopped on a breakaway by DiPietro, but on the same shift, he took a pass from Palmieri in the slot and rifled it into the net at 4:17. The goal ended a team-record 178:12 without scoring a goal, a streak that spanned six-plus periods.
"We drove at the net, made plays towards the net and that gave us a chance to get these goals," Lemaire said. "It's nice when you get rewarded with goals like that."
DiPietro, who stopped 17 of 20 shots, was making only his third start since missing 20 games due to facial fractures and knee swelling he received in a fight with Pittsburgh goalie Brent Johnson on Feb. 2. He is 1-2-0 since his return.
"This team can't go through anything more than what they've been through this year," DiPietro said. "It's disappointing, but we've got to bounce back."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale