The New York Islanders have shown a knack this season for blowing late leads and they nearly let another one slip away on Saturday.
But Josh Bailey scored the shootout winner to lead the Islanders to a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens in a battle of the Eastern Conference's two worst teams.
“Winning in a shootout is always kind of a lottery at but Al (Montoya) played a really nice game,” said Islanders captain Mark Streit. “He made some key saves and it's a big win for us.”
Streit, on the power play, and Frans Nielsen scored for the Islanders (29-33-11), who snapped a five-game losing streak. Montoya stopped 28 shots for New York.
It was a tense shootout that needed six rounds to decide the winner.
Montreal's David Desharnais and New York's Nielsen scored in the shootout's first round, then the Habs' Rene Bourque and the Isles' Matt Moulson put the puck in the net in the fourth round.
Bailey put the game away when he cut in front of the crease, waited out Peter Budaj and then fired the puck past the sprawled goaltender.
“I thought we did some really good things out there today,” Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban said. “On the penalty kill, I thought we did great on limiting their top players' opportunities.”
While the playoffs have long been out of the picture, the Canadiens have collected points in six straight games. Still, the loss dropped the Habs back to last place in the East, tied with the Islanders who hold a game in hand.
Aaron Palushaj scored his first NHL goal and Louis Leblanc added another one for the Canadiens (28-32-13). Budaj made 36 saves for Montreal.
Palushaj opened the scoring at 2:53 of the first period. Taking a feed from Petteri Nokelainen, the 22-year-old winger backhanded a shot from the goal-line past Montoya for his first goal in 32 NHL games.
“I was a little impatient (wondering) when is it going to come,” said Palushaj, who scored on the one-year anniversary of his NHL debut, also at the Bell Centre. “I've been getting my chances but I'm just happy to get that first one.”
Budaj kept the Islanders at bay for the rest of the period and early in the second with key saves on Bailey and Moulson from in close.
Streit got the Islanders on the board early on the power play at 2:00 of the second. The ex-Habs defenceman took the puck from behind his own net and skated down the ice before going five-hole on Budaj.
“On the power play, going like that is pretty special and in this building is even better for me,” Streit said. “There was a collision in front of me and I just took advantage of it. I wasn't expecting to do that but things happen out there and you've got to react to it.
“That's what I did and I was fortunate enough to pull it off and score.”
It was a collision that Canadiens head coach Randy Cunneyworth felt was a missed interference call by the officials. Habs winger Ryan White skated backwards into a waiting Moulson at the Montreal blue-line.
“That is called so often and it was so blatant that we couldn't believe our eyes,” he said. “It was probably a set play that they had that they use once a game because the next time they do it, it's going to get called for sure, if it doesn't get called on the first.”
Nielsen put the visitors ahead 2-1 late in the period. With Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov caught pinching, Nielsen broke out 2-on-1 with Bailey before sniping one over Budaj's left shoulder at 16:05.
Leblanc nearly got the equalizer late in the second when Montoya came well out of his crease to play the puck. The Canadiens rookie had a shot from the left of the net but was denied by Islanders defenceman Andrew MacDonald, who went down for the block.
Leblanc prevailed on his second chance at 3:38 of the third. Subban set him up with a perfect pass in the slot, where he lifted a backhand into the net from the slot for his fourth of the season.
Notes: Andrei Markov returned to the Canadiens lineup after missing Friday's game with an upper-body injury. ... Upper body injuries kept defenceman Tomas Kaberle and centre Scott Gomez out of the lineup for a second and third straight night, respectively. ... Forward Blake Geoffrion and defenceman Frederic St-Denis were healthy scratches. St-Denis was reassigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs following the game. ... The Islanders scratched veterans Steve Staios and Jay Pandolfo. ... Palushaj's goal was the first by a Canadiens player wearing No. 60 since goaltender Jose Theodore scored into an empty net on Jan. 2, 2001.
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