UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Montreal Canadiens waited three long days to erase a bad loss from their memories.
They sat in New York and stewed until the Islanders returned home from a lengthy road trip that took them across North America. In the end, it was well worth it. Tomas Plekanec scored in each of the first two periods, and Cristobal Huet stopped 17 shots for the Canadiens, who welcomed the Islanders back to New York with a 3-1 defeat Tuesday night.
Huet bounced back from a sub-par game Saturday in a 4-1 road loss to the New York Rangers, when he was pulled after allowing four goals on 28 shots through two periods.
“It was tough to take it,” said Alex Kovalev, who had a goal and assist. “Everyone was anxious to get it right back and show that we’re actually still a good team, we just had a bad game. That’s why everybody was so hungry and put up a good effort.”
Kovalev’s linemate Plekanec netted an even-strength goal in the first, when Huet faced only one shot, and added a short-handed tally in the second as the Canadiens won for the sixth time in nine games (6-1-2).
His only blemish against the Islanders came when Richard Park smacked a rebound past him with 9:04 left. Park’s first goal in 11 games brought New York within 2-1.
“I didn’t feel so well Saturday. I felt I let my team down,” Huet said. “It’s nice for the team and that we played well. I didn’t have much to do for the win.”
Kovalev’s 20th goal with 27.5 seconds remaining sealed it. Before he scored into the empty net, he looked for Plekanec to try to get him his first NHL hat trick.
“The defenceman started coming toward us and I said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to gamble,”‘ Kovalev said. “It’s 2-1 and you never know what would happen.”
Rick DiPietro stopped 19 shots for the Islanders.
Plekanec scored his first of the night 6:11 in after the Islanders turned over the puck in their zone. New York defenceman Bruno Gervais attempted a pass to Andy Hilbert that was broken up, and the puck came to Plekanec inside the blue line.
The fourth-year forward faked a shot from above the left circle and skated to the centre dot, where he sent a drive over DiPietro’s shoulder.
Montreal, fifth in the Eastern Conference with 54 points, had only nine more shots in the period, but the Canadiens shut down the Islanders.
“Hopefully we’re going to find something in our game to play all three periods,” Plekanec said. “I think that’s what separates us from the best teams.”
The Canadiens are 15-7-3 on the road, but only 8-7-5 at home.
New York appeared sluggish throughout its first home game since Jan. 3. The Islanders hoped to build on a successful five-game trip (2-1-2) that started with four games out west and concluded with a rare win in Ottawa on Sunday.
“Tonight was a bit of a letdown,” DiPietro said. “We played the way we wanted to play in the third.”
Bad weather forced the Islanders to stay in the Canadian capital until Monday, and Montreal took advantage of its road-weary opponent.
“It wasn’t what we were looking for, but there are no excuses,” Islanders captain Bill Guerin said. “We had a bad first period.”
Josef Vasicek recorded New York’s only shot in the first at 4:19, and the Islanders didn’t get another for 18 minutes when Sean Bergenheim forced Huet to make a save 2:23 into the second.
It appeared the Islanders might be finding their legs as they earned their first power play of the night 1:32 later. Instead of getting even, New York’s deficit doubled.
Kovalev checked Islanders defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron hard from behind into the boards deep in the Islanders zone. Soon after, Kovalev gained control of the puck and sent Plekanec on a 2-on-1 break with all-star defenceman Andrei Markov.
With Markov to his left and Bergeron defending, Plekanec beat DiPietro’s glove at 5:35.
Plekanec already has 16 goals in 45 games after posting a career-high 20 last season. The 25-year-old Czech Republic native has five goals and six assists in seven games.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody the way he’s playing,” Kovalev said. “The good thing to see from him is he steps up every year.”
Huet had his best stretch midway through the second when the Islanders put a flurry of shots on net, including a mini-breakaway from Mike Comrie. Another prime opportunity was thwarted when Miroslav Satan’s drive clanked off the right post.
“We had enough chances, it just took us until the third period to score one,” Satan said.
Notes: Plekanec’s other multi-goal effort this season came Oct. 26, when he scored twice and had a career-high four points at Carolina. … New York D Brendan Witt (ankle) missed his second straight game. … Montreal will finish its four-game trip Thursday at Atlanta.