They could have folded, facing the top team in the Eastern Conference, a blown two-goal lead and a few bad breaks from the officials.
But the Islanders -- led not by John Tavares and his top-line talents, but with a few of the depth guys -- did not fold. After the Canadiens rallied to tie in the third, Radek Martinek, the veteran defenseman playing just his third game of the season, blasted a shot past Carey Price with 12:04 to go, putting the Isles back in front just 1:49 after Montreal knotted the score.
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The 6-3 win over the Canadiens was sealed by Tavares' goal on Price with 1:07 to go, and Colin McDonald's empty-netter with 16.8 seconds left. It was the Isles' second win in a row at home, setting the stage for a visit from the Rangers Thursday with plenty at stake.
"I think that's pretty hard to play against, the way we played tonight," said Matt Martin, who scored a power-play goal in the Isles' three-goal second and worked hard along with McDonald and Casey Cizikas all night. "The last two games are a pretty good indication of the way we need to play.''
Much like their 4-3 overtime win in Montreal 12 days earlier, the Islanders were not that strong in the first period. A bad break put them down as Martinek got knocked off the puck behind his net and Michael Ryder's pass fooled everyone, rolling along the dasher to teammate Alex Galchenyuk, who fed Tomas Plekanec alone in front for the first score at 5:21.
But in the second, aided by their top-five power play, the Isles pushed back. Moulson tied it off a pretty feed from Mark Streit at 1:23. Just after a two-man advantage ended, Martin took a feed from Brad Boyes and beat Price at 12:10, followed quickly by Michael Grabner's goal 48 seconds later.
But after puck that seemingly cleared the zone on a penalty kill was not whistled for offsides by either linesman, Streit took a penalty to give the Canadiens a two-man advantage. P.K. Subban rifled a shot past Evgeni Nabokov (29 saves), cutting Montreal's deficit to 3-2.
Then in the third, linesman Brian Murphy called a questionable too-many-men minor on the Isles and Brian Gionta tied it from the doorstep at 6:07.
"It's a matter of sticking to it," said Thomas Hickey, who had his first two assists of the season to go with his OT winner in Montreal. "It wasn't about a blown lead, it's just hockey. We can't let the big picture get the best of us."
And they didn't, aided by the 36-year-old Martinek, who has been mostly a spare part. But with Lubomir Visnovsky in Slovakia for personal reasons, Martinek got his chance and unleashed his cannon of a shot to beat Price at 7:56 of the third.
"Sometimes you need to do that, just shoot as hard as I can," Martinek said.
The Isles sit in 10th place, two points back of the eighth-place Rangers. There hasn't been a bigger meeting between the two teams in a good long while, and now the Isles, 2-0-1 in their last three, have a fresh template of what they need to do.
"We've beaten the Canadiens twice, the Rangers, Pittsburgh, the Leafs -- all teams that have been playing well this year," Martin said. "We have to bring that energy and that effort to every game, that's what we need. We've set a higher standard for ourselves this year."