NEWARK, N.J. -- John Tavares scored his team-leading 22nd goal of the season, and the New York Islanders beat the New Jersey Devils 3-1 Monday night before a crowd of 17,625 at the Prudential Center.
With the Islanders on the power play midway through the third period, Lubomir Visnovsky sent the puck in front of the net from the left wing. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur touched it before it carried to Tavares, who connected with a shot from the edge of the right circle to make it a two-goal lead for New York.
Tavares ranks second in the NHL in goals, trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos, who has 25.
The Devils had cut a 2-0 Islanders lead to 2-1 on Alexei Ponikarovsky's goal at 8:01 of the second period, but Tavares' goal restored New York's comfortable margin.
The Islanders (17-16-3) now have 37 points in the Eastern Conference standings, two points behind the seventh-place Devils (15-12-9).
It took the Islanders just 52 seconds to take a lead in the first period. Josh Bailey scored his sixth goal of the season when he finished a 2-on-1 break with a backhand that beat Brodeur to the glove side.
Kyle Okposo's pass from behind his own net hit Frans Nielsen for the break. Nielsen took the puck in before sliding it left for Bailey, who deked Brodeur before knocking home his backhand shot from close range.
New York doubled its lead to 2-0 at the 7:14 mark of the first when Travis Hamonic lifted a shot from just inside the blue line that found the back of the net to Brodeur's left. Nielsen was credited with the assist.
The Devils started the second period in an attack mode, and their aggression paid off at the 8:01 mark when Ponikarovsky netted his fourth goal of the season, converting a pinpoint pass to the far post from Patrik Elias. Travis Zajac took control of the puck and passed it to Elias, who sent it to Ponikarosky for the goal that cut it to 2-1.
Minutes earlier, Ponikarovsky's point-blank shot had Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov beat, but it banged off the crossbar and over the net.
The Devils wound up outshooting the Islanders 25-21. Nabokov made 24 saves en route to the win. Brodeur stopped 18 shots.
In middle of the first period, Matt Martin of the Islanders landed a knockdown punch on Tom Kostopoulos. The Devils right wing took exception to an open-ice hit Martin landed on Stephen Gionta. The two squared off near center ice, and Martin hit Kostopoulos directly on the chin. The punch was so hard that Martin immediately waved for help. Kostopoulos was able to skate off with an escort from his teammates.
NOTES: After missing nearly two months and 26 games because of ligament damage to his left wrist, New Jersey left winger Dainius Zubrus was back Monday. Zubrus hadn't played for the Devils since skating against the Rangers on Feb. 5. "About 10 days after my surgery (on Feb. 14), I was able to work out, so I feel I'm in pretty good shape," Zubrus said after the morning skate. "I know getting back in a game situation is a little different since you battle guys and push guys, so that adds a lot more work." ... The Devils opened a roster spot for Zubrus by assigning forward Tim Sestito to the Albany Devils of the AHL on Saturday. Zubrus had contributed one goal and four points in his nine games before the injury. ... Tavares notched his fourth career hat trick for the Islanders in a 5-1 victory over the Devils on Feb. 16. ... Before the game, the Islanders signed forward Anders Lee, 22, a junior at Notre Dame, to an entry-level contract and reassigned Ryan Strome to its AHL Bridgeport affiliate. The Islanders had selected Lee in the sixth round (152nd overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft. He led Notre Dame in scoring in each of his first three seasons. Lee's college season ended with a 5-1 loss to St. Cloud in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday. A day later, he was signed by the Islanders. "He's going to play," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. ... The Islanders placed Joe Finley on injured reserve. ... Adam Larsson, Krystofer Barch and Anton Volchenkov were scratches for the Devils. Lee, Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton were scratched for the Islanders.