It's now three straight third-period meltdowns for the Islanders, 10 goals allowed in the final periods of their last three games. And Thursday night's hurt the most, with John Tavares and his line contributing directly to the Canadiens' game-winning goal to kick off the messy final 20 minutes of Montreal's 5-2 win at the Coliseum.
Tavares failed to get a puck clear from his own zone and lost his edge and his man, Brian Gionta. Gionta headed to the Islanders' net and tipped a puck past Kevin Poulin to snap a 2-2 tie only 48 seconds into the third.
It was simply more humiliation for the Islanders, who deflected the next two goals into their own net, 33 seconds apart. There also was a dose of humility from the officials, who failed to call a clear too-many-men penalty in the third, then sent Keith Aucoin off for embellishing when P.K. Subban had just stiff-armed Aucoin to the ice after a whistle.
"We've all got the right attitude, we want it, but we've got to show up for a whole game," said Tavares, who scored his team-leading 18th goal to tie it at 1-1 in the first and started the play that led to a goal by Lubomir Visnovsky for a 2-1 Islanders lead in the second. "We shouldn't be [fragile]. We've done some good things, we've played some good hockey. We have to have that killer instinct."
Their instincts late in the last three games have been more for self-inflicted wounds. The Islanders gave away a 3-0 lead in Florida on Saturday in the third, only to rescue themselves for a 4-3 regulation win. On Tuesday, back at the Coliseum, they gave up four goals in the third to the Senators to let a 3-1 lead slip into a bad regulation loss.
They were hanging tough with the Canadiens, who came to the Coliseum on a 13-1-4 streak, with a 6-3 Isles win on March 5 the only blemish.
At 2-2 entering the third, the Islanders sent Tavares and his linemates over the boards to start things off. But Tavares and Brad Boyes failed to get the puck out of the defensive zone. David Desharnais picked off Tavares' backhand fling, then hit Gionta for a deflection to put the Isles behind.
"It's battle level, that's the name of the game," Jack Capuano said. "This has nothing to do with structure, systems, none of that. There's  games left and the teams that win are going to out-will you."
The Islanders remained three points out of eighth in the East but now are only three points from 14th, with three teams behind them winning games Thursday night. There is no time for wallowing, either, with the Penguins, winners of 10 straight, coming to the Coliseum Friday night.
"That stuff just can't happen anymore," Boyes said. "I've got to get pucks deep, and when I'm on the wall, I have to get pucks out. That's the difference between winning and losing. Early in the third, in the middle, late -- it seems like once things happen, we can't be 'here we go again.' It has to be, 'OK, who's getting the next one?' "