The Montreal Canadiens were unable to cap a comeback in the third period and dropped the match to the New York Islanders by a score of 3-2. Christopher Higgins’ goal four minutes into the third period brought the Habs within one of tying, but the Habs were unable to find the back of the net again with only 7 shots sent Rick DiPietro’s direction in the final frame.
Alexander Perezhogin came the closest to tying the game when the net was left wide open during a scramble to DiPietro’s left, but Isles defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron saved the day when he managed to prevent Perezhogin’s shot from going into the open net by blocking the shot with both his skates while standing on the goal line. Bergeron, who was recently acquired from the Edmonton Oilers for Denis Grebeshkov, played over 23 minutes and finished the night as a +2.
The Islanders’ win allowed them to pass Montreal in the standings with two games in hand. Both teams now have 70 points on the season and are part of an eight team race for the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. With several games still to play Saturday night, it is uncertain where the Canadiens will sit in the standings come Sunday morning. It is quite possible that they will find themselves on the outside of a playoff spot looking in.
The Montreal Canadiens failed to play a full 60 minutes Saturday Afternoon in Long Island, and were lucky to leave the second period trailing only by two goals after being out-shot 12-6. Frans Nielsen, who is one of only a handful of players born in Denmark to every play in the NHL, registered his first two points of his career including the game winning goal scored at 10:52 of the second period. The goal gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead and allowed them to play a more defensive style of hockey for the remained of the game.
Overall, New York out-shot the Canadiens 31-22 and handed rookie goaltender Jaroslav Halak his first loss of his four game NHL career. Halak made a number of key saves to keep the Habs in this game, but let in one weak goal in the first period that the Slovakian netminder will surely want back.
Jason Blake managed his 29th goal of the season, his second goal in only 11 matches, when he skated in past the defensemen and got a quick shot off that fooled Halak who was in a standing position. The puck went 5-hole and the Islanders regained their one goal lead which they had only lost only two minutes before on a Sheldon Souray blast.
The Islanders got on the board early with a goal just under three minutes into the game. Jeff Tambellini tapped in Nielsen’s rebound with the shaft of his stick for his second of the season. The assist for Nielsen marked his first career NHL point.
The Habs got the break they were looking for when Brendan Witt was sent off for a delay of game penalty when he through the puck over the glass in his own defensive zone. The penalty gave Montreal a 5-on-3 opportunity with Isles defenseman Sean Hill already in the box for roughing up Mike Johnson.
Souray was able to tie the game with his signature slapshot from about 25 feet out front the net. With an assist on the goal, Andrei Markov picked up his 150th career point in his 393rd game. Saku Koivu also got his first of two assists on the night to extend his point streak to four games in which his has 9 points, eight of which have come in the form of assists.
Guillaume Latendresse was a healthy scratch for this match with Higgins’ return to the line-up. He should be back next game when Montreal takes on Toronto at the Bell Center Monday night, as the move by Coach Guy Carbonneau was mostly meant to send a message to the slumping rookie. It will also be interesting to see who gets a call in nets next game as Halak has started four straight with veteran goalie David Aebischer sitting on the sidelines.
Monday’s match against the Leafs will yet again be a must win for the Habs. Only 3 points separated the two teams before Toronto’s Saturday night match up against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Maple Leafs will also hold 2 games in hand on the Habs when the two meet on Monday, and could potentially only trail the Habs by a single point if they win Saturday evening versus Philadelphia.