Christopher Higgins netted the winner, but it was the two of the Habs’ rookies who helped Montreal beat the New York Islanders Tuesday night. Guillaume Latendresse scored two while Andrei Kostitsyn had three assists in the third period. Meanwhile, New York’s star netminder, Rick DiPietro, collided with Steve Begin at near the Isles’ blue-line and needed to be assisted off the ice. Mike Dunham replaced DiPietro, who left the game with what appeared to be a head injury, still with four minutes left to play in the first period.
The Canadiens played a strong game by out-playing and out-shooting the Islanders throughout. The Habs finished the game with a final shot advantage of 40-27. A real difference between this game and past matches was that the team consistently worked hard on each shift. Their hard work and disciplined play ultimately led to their third period rally.
The Habs may not have moved up from 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings, but the win did bring the team closer to a playoff spot point wise. Montreal now sits two points back from both the Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes who hold down seventh and eighth place respectively. However, with the Toronto Maple Leafs also winning their match Tuesday night, the race is that much tighter and there is no room for error over the Canadiens’ final 11 games considering most of the teams they’re chasing have played fewer games.
Montreal was down 3-2 heading into the final period, but the Habs never held back on route to scoring three goals in the final frame to take the game. Also, Coach Guy Carbonneau will be happy to see that his team did not take a single penalty in the third. This allowed the Canadiens to roll four lines which kept their players fresh late in the game, especially those who don’t normally kill penalties.
Latendresse evened up the score at three apiece nine seconds after Richard Park’s penalty expired. The goal was the 19-year-old’s 15th of the season, and his second of the game. The referees actually missed the goal, which entered and exited the net rather quickly, so Latendresse and his teammates had to cut their celebration short in order to continue playing. Once play came to a stop, the video replay was put into work so that the refs could review the play. No doubt about it, the goal stood.
The Habs didn’t wait too long before taking their first lead of the game. Just under three minutes later, Higgins was left open in front of the net and Kostitsyn behind it. Even with three Isles’ players surrounding him, Kostitsyn was able to chip the puck out to Higgins who made quick work for his 18th of the season.
Tomas Plekanec capped things off for the Habs on a goal that came with only 84 ticks left on the clock. Plekanec started the play, which soon became a 2-on-1 situation, after he moved the puck forward to Kostitsyn. With a brilliant backhanded pass, the 22-year-old Belarusian got the puck to a driving Plekanec who shot it past Dunham to put the game out of reach from the Islanders. The goal gives Plekanec one short of doubling his total of nine from last season.
Montreal began the game strong, yet they left the first period down 1-0 after Islanders’ captain Alexei Yashin scored his 14th of the season. Yashin was handed the puck by Miroslav Satan at the Habs’ blue-line and got a quick, hard shot off that was in the net before Aebischer had enough time to position himself to make a save.
Early in the second period, trade deadline acquisition Ryan Smyth gave New York a two goal lead when he was awarded a penalty shot opportunity. Defenseman Sheldon Souray’s hook on Smyth during a breakaway provided the referee with all he needed to see in order to award the shot. Aebischer failed to stop the puck that found its way through his five-hole at only 1:09 into the second.
Latendresse would score his first of the night to get Montreal on the board five minutes later. Michael Ryder did most of the work on this one after fighting off two opponents before making a pass across to Latendresse. The Habs’ rookie easily fired the puck up over Dunham who slid from one post to the other in desperation to make a save.
The Islanders then gave the Habs the opportunity they needed to tie the game when Park was sent to the box with Jason Blake already serving time. Ryder netted his second point of the game by scoring his 23rd goal on the 5-on-3 situation.
Marc-Andre Bergeron, another former Oiler, did his best to steal away the momentum the Canadiens had built up when he regained the lead for New York just over two minutes later. It was Bergeron’s 12th goal of the season. In addition to his goal, he also had an assist on Yashin’s goal in the first period. The two points Tuesday night gives Bergeron 11 in total since joining the Islanders 10 games ago. The offensive defenseman is also a plus-8 during that span.
David Aebischer made 24 saves in the Habs’ second straight win. Meanwhile, Latendresse’s two goals gave him four over the passed three games. Alex Kovalev and Radek Bonk both missed the match due to what appears to be vertigo for Kovalev and a reoccurring flu bug for Bonk. The Habs just can’t seem to shake the flu that has plagued them since Christmas.
Montreal gets a couple of days off before their next match Friday night against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Bonk will likely be back in the lineup, but don’t expect to see Samsonov get the call after spending a second straight game in the press box.
1. Andrei Kostitsyn (3A, +3, 16:49 Mins)
2. Guillaume Latendresse (2G, +1, 19:10 Mins, 2 Hits)
3. Chris Higgins (1GWG, +1, 20:42 Mins)