Montreal Canadiens defenceman Ryan O\'Byrne (20) and Los Angeles Kings left wing Richard Clune fight during the first period. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Gus Ruelas)
LOS ANGELES - A couple of quick strikes in the first and third periods and a pivotal penalty kill was all it took for the Montreal Canadiens to get a vital two points on the road in their quest to make the playoffs.
Brian Gionta scored 22 seconds after the opening faceoff, Benoit Pouliot connected 36 seconds after the second intermission, and Dominic Moore put the Canadiens ahead to stay with a short-handed goal in a 4-2 victory over Los Angeles on Saturday night.
"We played a strong game defensively," coach Jacques Martin said. "It was one of our better games away from the puck as far as getting good protection for our goalie."
Tomas Plekanec scored his 18th goal into an empty net with 1:11 to play, helping the Canadiens beat the Kings for the fifth straight time and break out of a three-way tie with Atlanta and the New York Rangers in the race for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Scott Gomez had two assists, and Jaroslav Halak made 23 saves.
"Every point is big for us," Gionta said. "The standings are what they are, so we can't sit back at all. We need to control our own destiny going down the stretch."
Canadiens centre Maxim Lapierre began serving a four-game suspension for his hit on San Jose's Scott Nichol on Thursday night in a 3-2 loss to the Sharks. Former Kings left wing Michael Cammalleri, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in his first season with them, missed his 10th straight game because of a knee injury.
"We were more desperate tonight than they were," defenceman Roman Hamrlik said. "That's the way we have to play every night."
The Kings have lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time since a three-game stretch Jan. 7-11. Anze Kopitar scored his 30th goal of the season in his 300th NHL game, Fredrik Modin scored his first goal in two games with Los Angeles after being acquired from Columbus, and Jonathan Quick made 21 saves.
"This was a pretty good effort. We just unfortunately gave the puck away at the wrong time," coach Terry Murray said. "It's just some management of the puck - holding onto it and making plays. We don't score at critical times on our power play."
The Canadiens were killing off a hooking penalty against Jaroslav Spacek when Moore got the puck in the neutral zone from Andrei Markov and beat Quick to the glove side with a 40-foot slapshot to give the Habs a 2-1 lead. It was only the third short-handed goal this season for Montreal and the third of Moore's career.
"In today's game you need to capitalize on special teams, and we didn't do that," Kings forward Ryan Smyth said. "We need to get back to the basics - pressing and getting the puck to the net. We just needed to simplify the game a bit. We need to play more desperate. We had to play catch-up, and we didn't give a good enough push throughout the game. But give them credit. They played well."
Pouliot made it 3-1 with his 15th goal, beating Quick to the glove side with a one-timer from the left circle after Gomez passed him the puck from behind the net.
"The Montreal Canadiens are a very desperate hockey club," Murray said. "They're on the bubble, so you've got to recognize that and know that the intensity is going to be high. They showed it in the first shift, and we weren't ready to match it."
Many in the sellout crowd were still finding their seats when Gianta scored his 19th goal after Quick turned back shots by Gomez and Pouliot.
"Anytime you can jump on a team like that early in the game like that, those things kind of set the tone," Gionta said.
Kopitar tied it at 18:16 of the first period with his 10th goal in 12 games. Jack Johnson cleared the puck off the left boards and into the Montreal zone, where Kopitar won a foot race with Glen Metropolit before swerving in front of the crease and beating Halak to the glove side with a backhander.
"We're not going to try to find excuses for this, but we need to get better. That's the bottom line," Kopitar said.
NOTES: Kings Hall of Fame TV play-by-play man Bob Miller was too ill to work the game, the first one he's missed since Nov. 2, 2002. It was only the 18th he's missed in 37 seasons with the club. ... Cammalleri became the 10th Montreal player this season to miss 10 or more consecutive games because of an injury.