NEW YORK - The New York Islanders produced the type of win Monday they desperately needed in order to assert themselves as a legitimate playoff contender in the Eastern Conference. In the process, the Islanders might have found the goalie they'll rely on the most during the sprint to the postseason.
Centers Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey and defenseman Marek Zidlicky all scored in the second period on Monday afternoon and goalie Thomas Greiss won his career-high fifth straight start as the Islanders remained red-hot at home with a 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Barclays Center.
The win was only the Islanders' second in the last two months against one of the nine other Eastern Conference teams either currently in playoff position or within four points of the last wild card. New York is just 6-9-3 overall this season against those teams, including the 10th-place Carolina Hurricanes, who routed the Islanders 6-3 on Saturday night.
"Especially after the game we played in Carolina, we wanted to come back, respond well," said Nelson, whose goal accounted for his 100th career point. "We didn't play up to the standards that we expect here. Today we came out, did a really good job."
With the win, the Islanders (30-19-6) vaulted past the New Jersey Devils into third place in the Metropolitan Division. New York is two points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who occupy the second and final wild-card spot.
"Just in general we needed a win," Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said. "I mean, what are we - 10, 11 games over .500? And we're still battling every night. It's a battle in this division to try to make a playoff push."
The Islanders might go into battle more frequently with Greiss, who tied a career high Monday by starting his 20th game of the season. He recorded 28 saves in improving his save percentage over his last six games (including a relief appearance Saturday) to 92.8 percent.
Starter Jaroslav Halak is 1-4-0 and has stopped 85 percent of the shots he's faced over his last five starts, a stretch in which he's been pulled mid-game twice.
"When you've got a goalie and he's playing well, you want to play him, there's no doubt about it," Capuano said.
Both Greiss and Capuano noted the Islanders have provided Greiss with far more offensive support lately. The Islanders have scored 28 goals in Greiss' last five starts, dating back to Jan. 3, compared to just 11 in Halak's last five starts, dating back to Jan. 25.
"That's just one of those things - some pitchers get run support, some don't, it happens at different times," Capuano said. "Fortunately for Thomas, we're scoring. And unfortunately for Jaro, he plays well for us (but) we just couldn't get anything done for him."
The Islanders, who lost their first two meetings of the season to the Red Wings by a combined score of 9-3, scored three times in a span of less than eight minutes in the second on Monday. It was the fifth time in the last four home games - three of which have been started by Greiss - that New York has scored at least three goals in a period.
"The team has been playing pretty well, too," Greiss said with a grin. "To get eight goals (in an 8-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 7) and five goals (in a 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 12) helps a lot too to win games."
Center Pavel Datsyuk scored just before the midway point of the third period for the Red Wings (29-19-9), who lost in regulation for the first time in six games. But center John Tavares' no-look, backward pass between two defenders set up an insurance goal by center Ryan Strome with 8:46 remaining.
"I thought our approach was good, I thought early in the game we were playing a good road game," Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill said. "They gained momentum when they scored."
Goalie Jimmy Howard made 28 saves in losing his eighth straight start dating back to Dec. 8.
"I thought Jimmy played good, Jimmy's just got to keep focused on playing good hockey," Blashill said. "He can't score more goals for us."
NOTES: The Islanders have played at home on President's Day in each of the last nine seasons in which the NHL has been active on the holiday and in the last 10 President's Days overall. The Red Wings have played on President's Day just four times in that span. ... The Islanders scratched RW Steve Bernier, G Jean-Francouis Berube and D Brian Strait. ... Islanders G Thomas Greiss also made 20 starts for the then-Phoenix Coyotes during the 2013-14 season. ... The Red Wings scratched D Jonathan Ericsson (lower body), D Jakub Kindl and LW Teemu Pulkkinen. ... Red Wings C Pavel Datsyuk was named the NHL's first star of the week after scoring five goals in four games and picking up the 900th point of his career in Sunday's 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins.