Halak made 26 saves in his return to the lineup, and the Islanders snapped a season-high, four-game losing streak with a 3-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
"It was a tight game and was similar to a playoff game for us," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "We tried to battle from the start and came out with more intensity. It was a little more interesting because of our situation.
"We didn't give them a lot of chances. We were fortunate to get a couple of goals. It was great to see (Jaroslav) come back and play like that. It was a big win for us."
The win kept the Islanders within five points of the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division. New York, which beat Carolina in a shootout, has played three fewer games.
"Every game from now on is going to be tight," said defenseman Travis Hamonic, whose third-period goal gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead. "We wanted to get back on the winning side. I don't think we played terrible the last four games, but we just didn't get a win.
"We were aware that we needed this game. It was a huge focal point."
Scoring early might have been the difference for the Islanders. They got a goal from recently benched Ryan Strome in the first period, and Halak made it stand.
Hamonic scored off a feed from Strome eight minutes into the third period. Kyle Okposo added an empty-net goal with 38 seconds left.
Halak, who missed the Islanders' previous game with a lower-body injury, was outstanding in recording his fifth shutout of the season. He extending his team record with his 35th win of the season.
"He was strong," said defenseman Adam Larsson, who led the Devils with five shots. "We had some quality shots, and he shut the door."
Cory Schneider made 27 saves for the Devils, whose three-game winning streak was snapped.
The game between the area rivals had all the atmosphere of a playoff game with a mixed crowd at the Prudential Center. Each side tried to drown out the other with cheers of "Let's Go Devils" or "Let's Go Islanders.
The Devils kept pace with the Islanders despite playing in Buffalo on Friday night. The Islanders had the previous three days off.
The difference was Halak, who also got some good fortune when Travis Zajac's second-period shot hit the goal post.
Halak also stoned Gomez late in the second when the veteran center redirected a pass from Bernier into the goalie's pad while standing about 2 feet away. He also had good stops on Adam Henrique and Eric Gelinas in the period.
"I think it's that time of year where you're going to get a team's best," Devils forward Stephen Gionta said. "We knew coming in that they were going to be a little desperate, having lost four in a row.
"We kept it close, but didn't get any through. Halak played very well for them. It's a frustrating and disappointing loss."
Strome's winner came 7:37 in, set up by a hustle play by Nikolay Kulemin after Schneider and defenseman Gelinas seemingly were caught off guard.
Schneider sent the puck to the corner with Kulemin closing in from center ice. Gelinas didn't realize he was under pressure, and Kulemin knocked him off the puck and found Strome in the left circle for a shot that beat Schneider.
Hamonic gave the Islanders breathing room just four seconds after a penalty to Gionta expired. Strome got the puck to Hamonic near the left circle and he scored his fifth of the season at 12:19 of the third.
The goal seemed to take the wind out of the Devils, whose playoff chance are slim with 10 games left in the regular season.
Okposo iced the game after being set up by Tavares, who didn't have a point during the Islanders' losing streak.
New Jersey top goal scorer Mike Cammalleri (illness) missed his second straight game. ... Devils forwards Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau didn't play after being called up from Albany (AHL) on emergency conditions. ... Islanders D Nick Leddy returned to the lineup after missing four games due to an upper-body injury. ... Devils F Michael Ryder was a healthy scratch after playing in three straight games. ... Schneider has given up two goals or fewer in 17 of 21 games.
- Greg Kimmerly
- Chris Lee
- Brian Murphy
- Don Henderson