It was only fitting for Montreal to snap its losing streak in front of some of the most memorable Canadiens players in recent decades.
Eleven former captains, including Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Chris Chelios and Saku Koivu, were in attendance at Bell Centre Tuesday night to commemorate the franchise’s 110th anniversary.
They watched the Canadiens snap an eight-game winless skid with a convincing 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders.
“I can’t say enough how neat that was,” said current captain Shea Weber, who sealed the win with an empty-netter. “There’s so much history in this franchise. To have the captains here, their presence, them giving back to the team, it was really cool.
“I hope it doesn’t take that every night for us to win games. But it definitely helped. Everybody in here had a boost, especially the way things were going. It was a good thing for us to be a part of that and use that.”
The Canadiens (12-10-6) avoided the club’s first nine-game losing skid since the 1939-40 season.
Weber, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher each had a goal and an assist. Defenceman Jeff Petry also scored while Carey Price stopped 21-of-23 shots for his 11th win.
Montreal was 0-5-3 since its last victory on Nov. 15.
“I felt like this was coming, and everyone else did,” said rookie Nick Suzuki. “We just had to stay with it. That was a big preaching point in our room from the coaches. It’s nice to see the result.”
The Canadiens seemed determined to snap the losing skid with those legends in the building with a fast and physical game right from the get-go against an Islanders team playing the second of a back-to-back set.
Isles goaltender Thomas Greiss turned away early chances by Gallagher and Nate Thompson before Danault scored in the last second of the opening frame.
With time ticking away as he crossed the blue line, Danault fired a shot off Scott Mayfield, kicked the loose puck onto his stick and beat Greiss at 19:59.
“You need a break at some point,” said coach Claude Julien. “I thought we played a really good first period. To come into the dressing room ahead 1-0 was a big difference versus 0-0. We were playing well but it was still a tie game.”
Julien’s team kept coming in the second period with good pace, big hits and quality scoring chances.
That effort paid off when Gallagher doubled the lead at 13:30 after batting down a one-timer from Weber in the crease for the easy tap-in for his team-leading 11th of the season.
Montreal made it 3-0 at 2:12 of the third on Petry’s shot from the blue line, which deflected off forward Josh Bailey.
The Islanders (18-6-2) remained in the game by scoring a goal just 41 seconds later when Mayfield’s one-timer came off a bouncing puck that knuckled past Price.
Matthew Barzal then cut the deficit to 3-2 with 2:29 remaining in the third by deflecting Nick Leddy’s shot from the point. However, the Canadiens held on for the win as Weber added the empty-netter with 27 seconds on the clock, shortly after a crucial defensive-zone faceoff win by Thompson.
Montreal outshot New York 40-23.
“We were down by two so we had to fight a bit,” said Barzal, who leads the Islanders with 24 points. “There were definitely some chances to be had out there. At the end of the day, it’s a 60-minute game and they dominated probably 50 minutes of it.
“They have some quick forwards and some big d-men and we just couldn’t find a breakout, couldn’t get anything through the neutral zone. They did a good job clogging it up.”