MONTREAL – It was all about energy as the youthful New York Islanders skated rings around the Montreal Canadiens.
Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson scored power-play goals late in the second period and Evgeni Nabokov made 19 saves for the shutout as the Islanders downed the listless Canadiens 2-0 on Thursday night.
“We outworked them,” said the Islanders Matt Martin. “They played (Wednesday) night and we were a little fresher than them and we had some young legs in the lineup.
“We tracked hard.”
The loss, combined with Tampa Bay’s 4-2 win over Philadelphia, compromised the Canadiens (45-28-8) chances of starting the playoffs on home ice.
Montreal is second in the Atlantic Division with 98 points and one game left to play while the Lightning has 97 points with two games left in the regular season.
The Canadiens will need to win their final regular season game Saturday night at home against the New York Rangers and hope the Lightning lose either Friday night against Columbus or Sunday against Washington.
“You want home ice, you want to go into the playoffs feeling good about your game, and we’ve got Saturday night to do that,” said Montreal captain Brian Gionta.
The Canadiens felt anything but good about their play against the Islanders (32-37-11), who posted their first regulation time win in four games but improved to 7-2-2 in their last 11. Nabokov got his fourth shutout of the season.
“It’s no fun losing at this time, but sometimes, you’re just not good enough,” said Thomas Vanek, who was traded to Montreal by the Islanders last month. “You have to give them credit, and at the same time, we sucked.
“The coaches prepared us and—I don’t know if it was tired legs or we were mentally not there or both, but overall they kept skating hard and putting pressure on us and we didn’t have a push back.”
The Canadiens also got the bad news that second line winger Alex Galchenyk, who appeared to injure his right knee in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime loss in Chicago, will miss the first round of playoffs with a lower body injury.
Montreal came out flat and never got any momentum as they were outshot 30-19.
New York held a 9-2 shot advantage early in the opening period but couldn’t beat Carey Price, even when the Montreal goaltender wandered halfway up the left boards and then misplayed the puck.
But Canadiens defenceman Douglas Murray, who returned from a three game suspension, was ejected at 10:52 of the second period for a check from behind on Johan Sundstrom.
The Islanders rookie turned around just as the Canadiens defenceman hit him at the side of the net into the end boards. Sundstrom was injured and was taken to hospital.
New York coach Jack Capuano said Sundstrom would likely be kept in hospital for observation and not travel with the team back to New York.
“It was a tough one,” said Capuano. “(Murray) is not that type of player.
“It’s one he’d probably like to have back. Hopefully our guy will be all right.”
The Islanders used the ensuing power play to open the scoring, as Strome put a shot past Price through a Casey Cizikas screen from the right circle at 15:07.
With Vanek off for high-sticking, Nelson whipped a shot under the cross bar from close range at 19:40.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said only Price’s solid goaltending kept the score close.
“It was bad performance fro our team,” said Therrien. “Every aspect of our game wasn’t sharp.”
Murray drew his first career suspension for an elbow to the head of Tampa Bay’s Michael Kostka on April 1.
Notes: Price and defencemen Andrei Markov and Alexei Elemin, who were given a game off Wednesday in Chicago, were back in the lineup. Forward Lars Eller missed a second game with a flu. . . after the game, the Canadiens returned defenceman Nathan Beaulieu to AHL Hamilton.