UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Montreal Canadiens left Long Island five points above the post-season cutoff with a handful of games remaining. A third straight trip to the playoffs? Well, hockey’s most famous franchise will have to wait a little longer for that.
Frans Nielsen scored the tying goal with 2:01 left in regulation and added a goal in the shootout as the New York Islanders beat Montreal 4-3 to prevent the Canadiens from clinching a playoff spot on Tuesday night.
Once the New York Rangers lost at Buffalo earlier Tuesday, the Canadiens needed only to beat the already-eliminated Islanders to get in. That seemed likely once Maxim Lapierre scored on a breakaway 6:20 into the third period to give Montreal a 3-2 lead, but the Islanders ruined the plans.
“I was looking at the scoreboard in the third period,” said forward Tomas Plekanec, who scored in the second. “I saw the Rangers were down, but we were trying to focus on our game.”
The Canadiens are sixth in the Eastern Conference, five points ahead of the Rangers. Montreal, with two games remaining, is one point in front of Philadelphia and two ahead of Boston. Montreal needs one point at Carolina on Thursday or at home against Toronto on Saturday to qualify for the playoffs.
“They came out pretty strong and we came out fairly flat,” said Brian Gionta, whose power-play goal gave the Canadiens their first lead. “I thought the second period we played pretty good, and the third period we sat back too much.
“It would have been nice to win, but it is what it is right now. We put ourselves in this situation. We just have to focus on the last two games.”
Nielsen and Matt Moulson scored on New York’s only two attempts in the shootout to give the Islanders their fifth win in six games.
“I thought the Islanders came out and played really hard,” Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. “We knew that they’ve been playing well lately. I thought we raised our level of intensity and we let the game slip away. They’re a good young team and they work hard. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Martin Biron made 28 saves in regulation and overtime and then stopped Lapierre on Montreal’s first shootout attempt. Mike Cammalleri then hit the post on the final try to seal New York’s win.
“Even though we’re out, everybody is loose,” said Sean Bergenheim, who had a goal and two assists. “We’re playing with more of a positive atmosphere with winning games. When we’re down and we still get the win, I think it shows that this team has grown.”
Lapierre’s breakaway goal gave the Canadiens a 3-2 lead in the third period. Plekanec and Gionta scored 2:36 apart in the second for Montreal, which had won three straight.
Jaroslav Halak, who appears to have won the job as Montreal’s No. 1 goalie over Carey Price, had his long shutout streak snapped when Blake Comeau gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead in the first period. Halak bounced back and made 39 saves, but that wasn’t enough.
Coming off back-to-back shutouts against Philadelphia and Buffalo, Halak allowed Comeau’s 17th of the season at 12:29 of the first. It was the first goal Halak had given up in 156 minutes, 30 seconds.
Montreal had earned points in 12 straight games against New York (10-0-2) and was looking for a season sweep in front of a large contingent of fans that cheered and chanted for the Canadiens from the moment the first puck was dropped.
“We didn’t beat them all year so we wanted to come out and get a little bit of revenge,” Islanders rookie John Tavares said. “It was a good win by us. I thought we dominated, especially in the third period.”
Just over four minutes after Bergenheim got the Islanders even at 2-2, Lapierre split New York’s defencemen and came in alone on Biron. He shifted the puck quickly to his backhand and lifted a shot over the fallen goalie.
Comeau played only five shifts that totalled 2:34 of ice time – all in the first period – before being forced out of the game by a foot injury. He is expected to be re-evaluated on Wednesday. He put the Islanders ahead when he took Bergenheim’s blind, behind-the back feed from the lower right corner and smacked in a shot from the doorstep. New York carried that lead into the second after outshooting Montreal 15-5 in the first.
Notes: Before Comeau scored, Halak hadn’t allowed a goal since New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus got a puck past him with 4:41 left in the second period of Montreal’s loss on March 27. … Montreal hasn’t had three straight shutout wins since they posted four in a row in 1949. … Comeau has five goals and two assists in the past four games.