UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Brian Gionta scored the tie-breaking goal 48 seconds into the third period and the Montreal Canadiens added two more goals in the final 20 minutes as they pulled away from the New York Islanders, 5-2, at Nassau Coliseum.
David Desharnais set up the goal by snaring a puck out of the air, placing it on the ice and dishing to Gionta, who managed to put enough of his stick on the puck to send it past Kevin Poulin.
Brendan Gallagher provided insurance for the Canadiens by scoring two goals in a span of just 33 seconds later in the period. Michael Ryder and P.K. Subban scored power play goals in the first and second period, respectively.
The Canadiens' third period outburst assured they would avoid a season sweep at the hands of the Islanders, who have accounted for two of Montreal's five losses since Feb. 9. The Canadiens are 14-1-4 in that stretch, including their lone regulation loss to the Islanders on March 5 as well as an overtime defeat at the hands of the Islanders in Montreal on Feb. 21.
With the win, the Canadiens ensured they'd remain at least two points ahead of the Bruins in the Northeast while also gaining ground on the idle Penguins in the race for the No. 1 seed in the East. With 45 points, Montreal is just one point behind Pittsburgh, which puts its 10-game winning streak on the line when it visits the Islanders Friday.
Goalie Carey Price made 25 saves for the Canadiens.
The Islanders (13-14-3) lost their second in a row and endured a third straight third period collapse as their playoff hopes continued to fade during a challenging four-game homestand.
New York entered the night three points behind the eighth-place Devils and ninth-place Rangers
The Islanders have been outscored 10-1 in the third period of their last three games. They gave up three unanswered goals in the third period at Florida Sunday before winning, 4-3, and were outscored 4-0 as they blew a two-goal lead in losing to Ottawa, 5-3, on Tuesday.
John Tavares and Lubomir Visnovsky scored for the Islanders while goalie Kevin Poulin made 24 saves in just his second start of the year.
There was a playoff atmosphere at the Coliseum -- at least until the Canadiens took their multi-goal lead -- in terms of both the quality of play as well as its intensity. The two teams were tied at 1-1 after one period, when each had 10 shots on goal, and were tied again 2-2 after two, at which point the Islanders had a narrow 20-19 advantage in shots.
There were also numerous pushing and shoving matches after the whistle. The Islanders faithful, hungry for actual playoff hockey after a five-season postseason drought, booed lustily after Keith Aucoin drew a two-minute penalty for embellishment early in the third.
The Canadiens took the lead 9:36 into the game when Michael Ryder fired the puck from beyond the left faceoff circle and past Poulin.
The Islanders tied it less than three minutes later when Tavares capped a coast-to-coast by balancing the puck the last 20 feet or so before he beat Price with a shot from just outside the goalmouth.
The Islanders took the lead following a flurry in front of the Canadiens' net at 6:58 of the second. Matt Moulson took two swipes at poking the puck past Price from the right side of the goalmouth before the puck squirted to Visnovsky, who snuck it into the opening in the center of the net.
Subban tied it at 10:53 with a scorching slap shot from just inside the blue line.
NOTES: The Canadiens entered Thursday having actually lost ground in the Eastern Conference over the last 10 games. The Penguins have won their last 10, a span during which they've gained four points on the Canadiens to take a three-point lead in the race for the top seed. ... The Canadiens' previous longest shootout-era streak of games with just one regulation loss was a 13-game run (9-1-3) from Oct. 18-Nov. 15, 2005. ... The Islanders were unbeaten against the Canadiens in the season series just four times in their first 39 NHL seasons and were perfect against Montreal just once (3-0-0 in 1983-84). ... The Canadiens scratched defenseman Tomas Kaberle. In addition to Martinek, the Islanders also scratched winger Eric Boulton and defenseman Joe Finley. ... Poulin was making his first start since Feb. 24 when he took the loss as the Islanders fell to the Hurricanes, 4-2.