Jaroslav Halak stopped 29 shots in his second shutout of the season, and the fast-starting New York Islanders beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 on Thursday night.
Brock Nelson and Scott Mayfield scored early goals 3 minutes, 12 seconds apart, and Andrew Ladd added a power-play goal to help the Islanders win their fourth straight and preserve their long-shot playoff hopes for a little while longer.
Eddie Lack stopped 20 shots for the Hurricanes, who lost their fourth straight overall, a slide that coincides with their mathematical elimination from the playoff race for the eighth straight year - the longest active postseason drought in the NHL. They've also been shut out in their last two home games.
Halak won his fourth straight start since his recall from Bridgeport of the AHL, and his first shutout since blanking Washington on Dec. 1 came in a must-win scenario for his team.
A loss to Carolina, and the Islanders would have been assured of missing the playoffs - just like the Hurricanes, who were eliminated two nights earlier.
Right from the opening drop of the puck, the Islanders played like a team that had something to play for, while Carolina was noticeably less crisp.
Nelson scored the game's first goal 87 seconds in when he pushed the puck off a skate past Lack, and Mayfield made it 2-0 at 4:39 when he backhanded a rebound past the Carolina goalie.
Ladd then effectively ended it 39 seconds into the second, when - with Victor Rask serving a double-minor for whacking Nelson in the face with his stick - he beat Lack with a snap shot from the circle to make it a three-goal game.
NOTES: Islanders captain John Tavares missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury. ... Carolina LW Bryan Bickell skated in his first home game since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His first game came two nights earlier at Minnesota.
Islanders: Wrap up a four-game road trip on Saturday night at New Jersey.
Hurricanes: Host St. Louis on Saturday night in their home finale.