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Islanders' rally falls short in loss to struggling Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens centre Nate Thompson (44) is checked

Montreal Canadiens centre Nate Thompson (44) is checked by Islanders center Casey Cizikas (53) during second period NHL hockey action, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 in Montreal.  Credit: AP/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL — The Islanders sure looked tired.

“Tired mind, tired body,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Probably more tired mind. We got what we deserved.”

That was a 4-2 loss to the struggling Canadiens on Tuesday night at Bell Centre with a too-little, too-late rally that did not wash away some lethargic hockey through the first two periods. The Islanders played one forward short the final two periods with Cal Clutterbuck exiting after getting an unpenalized cross-check to the face in the first period.

The Canadiens thrived with their forecheck, playing much of the game in the Islanders’ zone, taking a 3-0 lead as they snapped an 0-5-3 skid. Meanwhile, the Islanders (18-6-2) struggled with breakout passes and could not navigate through the neutral zone easily.

“There wasn’t much out there for us tonight,” said Mathew Barzal, who scored his 11th goal by tipping in Nick Leddy’s shot to bring the Islanders within 3-2 at 17:31 of the third period. “They played desperate hockey and it showed. At the end of the day, it’s a 60-minute game and they dominated probably 50 minutes of it.”

“That’s probably fair,” Trotz said. “First period, we knew they were going to have a push. They were all in. Our first wasn’t good enough. We turned too many pucks over and played too slow.”

Shea Weber’s empty-netter at 19:32 clinched it for the Canadiens (12-10-6).

The Islanders, who handed the Red Wings their eighth straight regulation loss, 4-1, on Monday night, are now 14-1-1 in the second game of back-to-backs under Trotz.

“They played hard,” said defenseman Scott Mayfield, who brought the Islanders within 3-1 at 2:53 of the third period with a shot from between the circles just 41 seconds after Montreal’s Jeff Petry had his shot deflect in off Josh Bailey’s stick. “I don’t think we matched it. It wasn’t our best game. We weren’t smooth on the transition. Every time we turned it over, they just jammed it right back into our zone.”

Thomas Greiss made 36 saves in what Trotz termed a “wasted effort.”

Carey Price stopped 21 shots for the Canadiens (12-10-6), clearly buoyed by a pregame ceremony honoring the franchise’s living former captains.

And the Islanders clearly were skating a step slow to start.

“They were all over us,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “We weren’t able to really respond until maybe partway through the third period. We were kind of just a step behind and they were desperate. They were hungry to find a win and we didn’t bring the game that we needed to bring.”

The Islanders did not get their 10th shot of the game — and just their third shot of the second period — until 18:25, when Mayfield lined one up from the blue line on the man advantage.

By then, the Canadiens led 2-0 on Brendan Gallagher’s goal at the crease at 13:30. Weber, who won the NHL’s hardest shot competition at the NHL All-Star Weekend from 2015-17, blasted one that Greiss could not handle with his glove, leaving the puck for Gallagher.

The second period was a continuation of a first in which the Islanders played too loose defensively. Yet they were still 0.7 seconds away from going into the intermission in a 0-0 game.

But Phillip Danault’s attempted buzzer-beating wrister went off Mayfield’s back and the Canadiens’ top-line center had just enough time to snap the loose puck past Greiss.

“If they don’t score there, maybe we regroup and get a push on,” Trotz said. “But the first period, just being 1-0, that probably flattered us.”

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