There was never a real feel that the slumping Devils would drop so far that they would miss the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons, but knowing for sure that a spot is secure came as a bit of a relief.
"It's nice not to have to think about it now," said Martin Brodeur, who made 21 saves. "Now, we're trying to climb as high as we can with the three games we have left. A few weeks ago, we were leading the conference, and now, we're scrambling to get in. At least we can go for fourth place."
New Jersey strengthened its hold on fourth in the East and stayed alive in the race for the Atlantic Division title. Anything other than a win Tuesday, would have given the crown to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Devils trail Pittsburgh by five points, but have a two-point edge over the fifth-place New York Rangers in the chase for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"It's nice to have that 'X' by your team in the standings," coach Brent Sutter said. "Now, we've got to fight for home ice."
The Devils played for the first time since snapping a season-worst, five-game losing streak (0-4-1) by beating Philadelphia in a shootout on Friday. They finished the season series with the also-ran Islanders 2-5-1, a mark that damaged New Jersey's chances to win the Atlantic.
"Our focus now is home ice, and we control that," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "We played a pretty solid game after the first period. Some words were said, and we responded. It was good to beat them. It's frustrating when you get beat by a team so many times."
"He was great," Brodeur said of MacDonald. "He didn't give up many rebounds. He didn't go out of the net too much. He controlled his own game very well. It's tough when you play that well and face that many shots and lose, but it's good for us."
Brodeur earned his 42nd victory of the season, allowing only a goal to Josef Vasicek in the first period.
New Jersey tied it during a dominant second period when they outshot the Islanders 20-5. The tying goal came during the Devils' third power play of the game.
Elias skated into the left circle and stepped into a hard slap shot that slammed into the net just under the crossbar at 5:42. That gave Elias seven 20-goal seasons in the past eight.
"I'd maybe like to have that one back, but he can pretty well put it wherever he wants," MacDonald said. "Overall, I felt really good. I felt confidence from playing a lot between here and Bridgeport (AHL), and it helps."
MacDonald looked solid in making just his second NHL appearance of the season. He got the call over Wade Dubielewicz, the No. 1 backup for injured starter Rick DiPietro, who is expected to play both ends of a season-ending home-and-home series against the New York Rangers on Thursday and Friday.
The Islanders, long out of the playoff race, would like nothing more to derail the Rangers' postseason plans in the final week. The Islanders have gone 2-2-2 in their past six games, all against New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia -- three likely playoff teams.
"Every competition you're in you want to win," defenseman Freddy Meyer said. "It doesn't matter if you're not playing for anything or you're playing for the Stanley Cup. You're still going out there and you're working as hard as you can. Obviously, you want to win and that's what you've seen the past couple of games.
"It speaks numbers for the character of the guys in the locker room."
- The only time Elias failed to score 20 goals in the past eight seasons was in 2005-06 when he was limited to 38 games.
- The Devils have not missed the playoffs since 1996, winning two Stanley Cup titles since.
- Islanders D Aaron Johnson sat out due to a rib injury.
- New York recalled D Drew Fata and RW Matt Keith from Bridgeport (AHL). The Islanders also signed Jack Hillen, the leading scorer among NCAA Division I defenseman, to a two-year contract.