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New York Islanders goalie Mikko Koskinen makes a diving save on Montreal Canadiens defenseman James Wisniewski during the second period of NHL hockey action in Montreal, February 10, 2011. (SHAUN BEST/REUTERS)
New York Islanders goalie Mikko Koskinen makes a diving save on Montreal Canadiens defenseman James Wisniewski during the second period of NHL hockey action in Montreal, February 10, 2011. (SHAUN BEST/REUTERS)

Habs shot down by Islanders Add to ...

Once a perception sets in, accurate or not, it can be awfully hard to crack.

And after Wednesday night's old-time-hockey thumping at the hands of the Boston Bruins, the view around the NHL that the Montreal Canadiens have trouble coping with the rough stuff will be gaining currency.

Not because the New York Islanders ran them out of the building on Thursday night - they didn't - but because the Habs seemed unable to rebound from the previous game and muster the required emotion to dispose of a much weaker opponent.

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The Islanders won 4-3 in a shootout, but easily could have ended proceedings in the third period had Matt Moulson not spurned a pair of chances where it was easier to score than to miss.

The Canadiens entered the game with an 18-7-4 record at home, so the Isles shouldn't have found it so easy to claw back from 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 leads, as they did.

The fatigued Habs, who didn't return from Boston until early Thursday, earned an overtime point, but it's not much consolation.

They have now lost three straight, not the kind of sequence they can afford in the tightly-bunched Eastern Conference playoff race.

"It's disappointing, for sure. Teams like this and the New Jersey Devils, they're playing for pride, and they're not going to give up on themselves," said former Islander James Wisniewski, who was thwarted by rookie goalie Mikko Kostinen, who made an acrobatic save to deny what looked like a sure goal in the second period. "We just need to tighten up."

It didn't help that the Canadiens, lethal on the power play in Boston, where they scored four times, posted a goose egg in four opportunities.

Tomas Plekanec was unable to convert a pair of gilt-edged chances (a breakaway and a short-handed two-on-one) that would have given Montreal some breathing room.

"We had our opportunities to open up the game, but we just couldn't do it," said stone-faced Montreal captain Brian Gionta.

They directed 40 shots at the super-sized Koskinen, but he grew in confidence as the game wore on, and the Habs' iffy defensive zone play - laid bare by Boston in the 8-6 fight-filled pounding on Wednesday - yielded again at inopportune times.

The Canadiens had to play the game without towering defenceman Hal Gill, who is suffering from an unspecified "upper-body injury", and it showed in their own end.

And when it came time for the shootout, the 6-foot-6 Koskinen was unbeatable, turning away Brian Gionta, Max Pacioretty, Plekanec and Benoit Pouliot.

"Mikko gave us a chance . . . it was tough for him to go in (as a last-minute injury fill-in on Feb. 8) but he had a couple of days to prepare for this game and I thought he was very solid, kept it simple, stayed square to the puck and didn't try to do too much," said Isles coach Jack Capuano.

Alex Auld couldn't match those heroics for the Habs, yielding to Kyle Okposo in the fourth round of shooters.

The goal marked the first time this year the Isles had won a game after trailing in the second intermission.

The Islanders have become a much more threatening prospect in the last couple of months, and it was a scruffy, disjointed game in the early going as the teams traded penalties to cancel out a series of power plays.

Montreal was the first to hit the scoreboard, with Pacioretty the beneficiary of a sublime individual effort by the diminutive David Desharnais, who slalomed around two New York defenders before dishing a perfect pass that Pacioretty one-timed home.

It was his third goal in two periods (he had two in the final frame in Boston and has now tallied six in his last eight games).

John Tavares replied later in the first with his 19th, then Benoit Pouliot gave Montreal a 2-1 lead early in the second, after some yeoman work from call-up Ryan White - who subbed in for the injured Mathieu Darche.

But Michael Grabner evened matters with just under three minutes to play in the frame. Tomas Plekanec, on a two-on-one, gave Montreal a 3-2 lead a minute later.

The Islanders tied the game once again through Grabner in the third - his ninth and 10th goals in his last 12 games.

HELLO, MY NAME IS…

Koskinen, in net for just his second career NHL start, was one of six netminders - soon to be seven, with the recent trade for Phoenix's Al Montoya - to suit up for New York this year.

"We have complete confidence in all six of our goalies," laughed defenceman Bruno Gervais, who joked that he was struggling to keep all the names straight.

Journeyman minor-leaguer Joel Martin, a 28-year-old native of Fort Worth, Tex., who was a member of the Odessa Jackalopes of the Central Hockey League until last week, dressed as his backup.

The Islanders jersey is the 16th he has worn in his career.

And when his call to The Show came, after rookie Kevin Poulin hurt his knee in warm-up on Feb. 8, he didn't hear the phone ring.

"I missed the call, I was hanging out with a buddy and we were just about to order dinner and I got a voicemail so I checked and they said 'We need you right now in New York', and I went 'Hey, I think they play tonight'," he said.

Martin eventually made it to Uniondale for the end of the second period. It's expected he'll be sent back down as soon as Friday.

THE SECRET WEAPON

Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban likes to say that he knows just what to say to knock his childhood pal Tavares off his game.

"He'll never score when I'm on the ice," he said after a recent game. "I know exactly what to say."

Subban had been asked about his more or less constant jabbering while on the ice. Like all good conjurers he wouldn't reveal the secret to his trick.

But it doesn't seem the spell applies to his teammates: Tavares potted his 19th goal of the season on Thursday night, using some nifty hand-eye coordination to bat a puck past Auld.

Subban was watching from the bench at the time.

OLD HABITS DIE HARD

A few dozen Quebec Nordiques fans were on hand, doubtless to celebrate the announcement Thursday that Quebec City and the province are going ahead with the construction of a new arena.

Their chants of "let's go Nor-diques" were quickly drowned out by boos and shouts of "let's go Habs."

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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