New York Islanders\' Frans Nielsen scores on Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak. (AP/Ed Betz)
Frans Nielsen's first NHL goal turned out to be the game winner and the Islanders defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on Saturday.
"I couldn't believe it when it went in," said Nielsen, the first NHL player from Denmark. "It'll be big in Denmark."
Jeff Tambellini and Jason Blake also scored for New York, now 4-1-0 during a seven-game homestand. Rick DiPietro, starting his 11th straight game, stopped 20 shots.
Sheldon Souray and Christopher Higgins scored for Montreal. Rookie goalie Jaroslav Halak lost his first game in net after starting with three straight wins. Halak turned aside 28 shots.
With the win, the Islanders moved into a tie for seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff race with the Canadiens at 70 points. Carolina started the day one point behind Montreal and plays at Atlanta tonight.
"We didn't play bad," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said. "Our skating was good, but our passing was what was bad. We couldn't sustain any offence in the first two periods."
The Islanders scored first 2:43 into the game when Tambellini tapped in Nielsen's cross-crease pass.
Souray tied the game for Montreal on a two-man advantage. His rising slap shot from the right point caught the upper right corner at 13:54 in the first period.
Souray has 21 goals, 15 on power plays. He's three power-play goals away from tying the league record of 18 by a defenceman in a season, shared by Adrian Aucoin and Denis Potvin.
Later in the first period Blake put the Islanders up 2-1 with his career-best 29th goal. He moved down the right side and beat Halak with a backhander to the far corner at 15:58.
"He made a good shot," Halak said. "I was a little out of position."
Carbonneau said that after the goal, Halak's play was much better.
"I'm sure he'd like to have that second one back," Carbonneau said. "But after that goal, he played really well for us."
Halak made a wonderful glove save eight minutes into the second period to keep the game close. He went low to rob Arron Asham's right circle wrist shot.
Nielsen flipped Richard Park's cross-crease pass over Halak at the 10:52 of the second period.
"We got away from our game plan a bit in the first two periods," Montreal forward Michael Ryder said. "We came back well in the third, and battled to the end, but we just came up a little short."
Long Island native Higgins cut the gap to 3-2 with his 17th goal of the season at 3:50 of the final period. He tipped Mark Streit's high-slot slapper past DiPietro.
"It was nice to get a goal here," Higgins said, "but we could have used the two points a little bit more."
Montreal had a golden opportunity to tie the game at 8:15, but recently acquired defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron, standing in the crease, blocked a shot with DiPietro down and out of the net.
"I just moved to the front of the net when I saw Ricky down," Bergeron said. "I prayed a lot, and it worked out."
DiPietro was relieved as well.
"Marc made a real heads-up play," DiPietro said, "and he saved the game."
Notes: Higgins returned to the lineup after missing a win at Nashville on Thursday. He suffered a shoulder injury during a 5-3 win at home over Washington on Tuesday. "I felt great out there," Higgins said. "I took a few hits and gave a few hits, and didn't notice my shoulder at all."... The last rookie goalie for the Canadiens to win at least his first four starts in net was Wayne Thomas, who won his first seven starts in 1973. ... New York has just two regulation losses in its previous 15 games (9-2-4), both 2-0 losses to New Jersey. ... The attendance was 16,234, just the fourth sellout of the season for New York.