MONTREAL -- The Islanders were close to a deep hole, down by two goals after a period and getting out-everythinged by a hot Canadiens squad. They were nearing a third straight defeat and eighth loss in 10 games, playing the sort of hockey that results in coaching changes.
But the maddening talent on this team snapped to life, as it did exactly a week before in Madison Square Garden. The Isles clawed back to tie, held on with some gritty work to grab one point, then nabbed the other on Thomas Hickey's first NHL goal 3:12 into overtime. Their 4-3 win over Montreal Thursday night staved off what could have been an ugly aftermath.
"Maybe the worst period we've played in my three years here," Travis Hamonic said of the first, in which the Islanders surrendered a goal on Montreal's first shot on goal just 49 seconds in, then fell behind 2-0 on a bad breakdown on the penalty kill. The shots were 14-3 for the hosts.
It was assistant coach Doug Weight who lit a fire under the Islanders Feb. 14 in Manhattan, daring the players to do something to show they cared after falling into a 2-0 hole. They rallied for a 4-3 shootout win that night.
Thursday night, Jack Capuano reminded his players to "just go and play -- do it within our structure, but just relax and play. They were the tightest I've ever seen them in that first period."
Matt Moulson got the Islanders on the board with a power-play goal 34 seconds into the second, and his second goal of the period, also on the power play, pulled the Isles within 3-2 after 40 minutes.
The third period featured some ugly play and a load of icings by the Canadiens, who clamped down space in the neutral zone. Frans Nielsen broke through after a superb backcheck and outlet pass to receive a return feed from Josh Bailey and bury a wrist shot behind Carey Price for a 3-3 tie at 9:51.
There were scary moments down the stretch, including two Canadiens power plays in the final 7:08. But Nielsen and Marty Reasoner won key faceoffs and Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald, who were way off their games most of the night, blocked shots and cleared traffic in front of Evgeni Nabokov (30 saves) to preserve the tie into OT.
"AMac blocked some shots, Frans won draws, Marty won some battles -- those were the guys who got it done," John Tavares said. "They gave us a chance."
And Tavares, who already had one assist on Moulson's second goal, converted. He drew both Canadiens defensemen to him on an overtime rush, lost his balance but still got the puck to Michael Grabner, who fed Hickey at the side of the net for the winner. So an unlikely goal-scorer ended an unlikely win for the Isles, who avoided falling four games under .500.
Having lost two straight coming in and then coming out slowly was head-scratching.
"The best way to describe it is we were a bunch of pylons out there in the first," said Tavares, who is tied for fourth in the NHL with 22 points.
"We definitely needed something to get us to come together and grind out a win," Hamonic said. "Maybe this is what can kick-start our group."