UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Montreal Canadiens have found every conceivable way to win or get a point since a trouncing by Toronto on Feb. 9. They avenged their only defeat in that stretch on Thursday night, scoring three third-period goals to beat the New York Islanders 5-2.
Brian Gionta scored the go-ahead goal 48 seconds into the third period, P.K. Subban scored his second goal of the night midway through the period and rookie Brendan Gallagher finished it off to help the Canadiens improve to 20-5-5, second only to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference. Montreal is 14-1-4 since the 6-0 drubbing by Toronto six weeks ago.
“We came into the third period with a lot of energy, got a quick one and kept it going,” said Subban, who scored the tying goal midway through the second period and Montreal’s fourth goal midway through the third. “It was a tough game but we’re good at grinding for the full 60 minutes.”
The same can’t be said for the Islanders, who have lost for the 11th time in 24 games in which they have been tied or ahead in third period. New York is 13-14-3, still only three points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. They continued to struggle at home, where they are 5-10-2.
“It’s about battle levels, winning the intangibles,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “Games are won in the trenches. When you play with enough desperation, you don’t win in this league. It’s the little things that cost us again.”
Gionta’s 10th goal of the season came after centre David Desharnais caught a wobbling puck by the blue line off a clearing attempt, set it down and passed it to Gionta in front.
Subban had tied the game 2-2 with his eighth of the season on a power-play at 10:53 of the second when he blasted a shot from the point past Poulin. Subban added his second goal at 10:10 of the third, and Gallagher had Montreal’s final goal 33 seconds later, giving the rookie his ninth of the season.
Michael Ryder also scored for Montreal, whose lone regulation defeat since Feb. 9 came against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on March 5.
Carey Price made 25 saves for Montreal.
“This was a good win for us,” said Max Pacioretty, who had two assists for the Canadiens and leads the team in scoring with 9 goals and 16 assists. “We have to play a pressure style to win and we did that tonight when it counted.”
Montreal has earned points in 10 of its last 11 games and sits atop the Northeast Division.
John Tavares and Lubomir Visnovsky scored for the Islanders, who lost their second straight after going 5-1-2 in the previous eight games to get close to the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Montreal native Kevin Poulin made his second start of the season in goal for the Islanders to give starter Evgeni Nabokov a rest. The 22-year-old Poulin was called up from AHL Bridgeport on Feb. 23 when backup Rick DiPietro was waived and sent down.
Ryder opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 9:36 of the first, tipping a slap shot of the point past Poulin, whose only other start came in a 4-2 loss to Carolina on Feb. 24. It was the ninth goal of the year for Ryder, who was reacquired from Dallas earlier this season.
Tavares made it 1-1 at 12:06 with his 18th goal of the season on a slick move, faking a pass to linemate Brad Boyes and beating Price with a snapshot from the left circle. Tavares is tied with Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz and Jeff Carter of Los Angeles, three goals behind league leader Steven Stamkos.
“We got away from our game after playing a good first 40 minutes,” Tavares said. “We have to understand that we can’t come off the gas pedal in the third period.”
Visnovsky put New York ahead at 6:58 of the second when he tapped in a rebound with assists by Tavares and Matt Moulson.
Moulson assisted on both Islanders goals, and leads the Islanders with 21 assists
“All we can do is forget about this and come back tomorrow,” Moulson said.
New York hosts Pittsburgh on Friday and Florida on Sunday before starting a four-game road trip. The Islanders are 8-4-1 on the road.
The Canadiens return home to play Buffalo on Saturday at the Bell Centre.
NOTES: Montreal played without Brandon Prust (shoulder) and scratched defenceman Tomas Kaberle. … The Islanders scratched defencemen Radek Martinek and Joe Finley and forward Eric Boulton. … Defenceman Matt Carkner made his return for the Islanders after missing 20 games with a groin injury. … Islanders right wing Michael Grabner also returned, having missed three games with a shoulder injury.