MONTREAL – Petteri Nokelainen prevented the Montreal Canadiens from letting another third-period lead slip away.
Nokelainen scored the game-winner and added an assist, to lead the Canadiens to a 5-3 win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.
“Lars (Eller) gave me a perfect pass. He laid it down there and I just closed my eyes and tried to shoot as hard as I can,” said Nokelainen, who earned first star honours for his efforts.
Andrei Kostitsyn, Mathieu Darche and Erik Cole also scored for the Canadiens (13-11-7), who posted back-to-back wins for the first time since beating the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators on Nov. 10 and 12, respectively. They last won consecutive home games on Oct. 26 and Oct. 29 against the Flyers and Bruins.
Hal Gill added an empty-net goal to seal the game.
Blowing late leads has become a bad habit for the Canadiens. They saw a three-goal lead against the Vancouver Canucks turn into a shootout loss last Thursday. A two-goal cushion against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 26 ended in an overtime loss.
“We made it interesting again, which we have to make sure we stop doing that but at least this time we stuck with it and got a quick goal,” Darche said. “We’ve done it way too often…and we have to make sure we close those out without playing with fire like that.”
Carey Price, who stopped a Zach Parise penalty shot on Saturday to help secure a Habs win, made 29 saves.
“I had the ‘here we go again’ thought for a second but at the end of the day we just got it done,” Price said. “We found a way to win it and that’s a really good sign.”
Al Montoya, making his ninth straight start, stopped 22 shots for the Islanders (9-13-6).
“(We) battled, and that’s what you look for,” said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano. “We’re down by two goals and we kept coming; we didn’t quit. I was proud of the effort tonight.
“It was a game I thought we should come out with at least a point, for sure.”
Matt Moulson and Josh Bailey scored for the Islanders, who saw their road points streak snapped at four games.
A P.K. Subban turnover helped the Islanders get on the board in the first period. Winger Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau picked up the Canadiens defenceman’s errant pass towards the Montreal blue-line and took a shot that missed the net. Moulson found the rebound and, with Price all the way to the right, easily put it into the open net at 7:50.
Kostitsyn answered less than two minutes later when he picked up his own shot and wired one past Montoya at 9:15.
Darche added to the Canadiens’ lead 13:28 into the first when his shot from just outside the face-off circle trickled through Montoya’s legs and into the net.
Cole, who had several good chances all night, finally scored just 31 seconds into the third period. David Desharnais found him in the slot with a perfect pass, allowing the winger to bury his 11th of the season. The goal ties him with Max Pacioretty for the team lead.
Bailey brought the Islanders within one at 5:18 and Tavares evened up the score with his 10th of the season at 11:28.
Home wins have been hard to come by for the Canadiens this season. Tuesday’s triumph marked just the fifth one at the Bell Centre, with only two more remaining to close out the 2011 calendar year.
“This has got to be our building. It’s got to be really hard to win in here and it hasn’t been hard enough lately for the opposition teams,” Eller said. “But hopefully we can build on this. We’ve got two more games, and we’re going in the right direction.
“There’s a good atmosphere in the locker-room. We believe in what we’re doing and tonight we got the two points.”
Notes: Travis Moen left midway through the first period with a lower body injury and did not return…Chris Campoli was back in the lineup for the first time since opening night, when he suffered a lower body injury.…The Canadiens were without Brian Gionta (lower body), Scott Gomez (lower body)….Defenceman Alexei Emelin was a healthy scratch.