This was a bad night for Jaroslav Halak's first clunker of the season.
Even with Halak allowing three goals on 11 Canadiens shots and being pulled after a period, the Islanders still had lots of chances to pull even late in Friday night's game.
Matt Martin's one-timer squeaked through Carey Price's pads, off the post and onto the goal line, where it sat until the Canadiens were able to clear it away with just over eight minutes left and the Islanders down a goal.
The Isles ended up 5-3 losers, their fifth straight loss to the Canadiens dating to last season. It was a feisty game with lots of extracurricular activity after whistles, and the teams' third and final meeting this season on Sunday in Montreal should be a doozy.
But the Islanders just weren't able to overcome their slow start before a Barclays Center crowd of 15,171, the biggest since opening night and filled with plenty of Habs fans.
"It just wasn't a very good start," said John Tavares, who mixed it up with old friend P.K. Subban in the first period, setting the nasty tone for the game. "Any time you let a couple two-goal leads go to a team like that, it's hard to get back in it. We had some chances but we couldn't get the last one."
Price, returning after missing three weeks with a lower-body injury, made 33 saves but wasn't unbeatable. Halak, who'd been sharp in every one of his previous 10 starts, was far too beatable.
It began when Brian Flynn's backhand caromed off Halak's pads, went high in the air and sat in the crease with Halak still searching for it. Jeff Petry jumped off the right point to sweep in the loose puck at 2:52.
Brock Nelson banged in a rebound of Tavares' shot at 11:57, but the tie lasted only 35 seconds. Tomas Fleischmann's off-wing shot got under Halak's arm and Halak was caught moving too slowly on Nathan Beaulieu's wrist shot on a Montreal three-on-two at 18:17.
The end of the first spelled the end of Halak's night.
"We just needed a spark. It wasn't all on Jaro," Jack Capuano said. "Our goalies have been there all year for us."
Thomas Greiss replaced Halak to start the second period and his team pulled itself together quickly. Travis Hamonic scored his first goal of the season 39 seconds into the second to pull the Isles within a goal.
Petry's second goal extended the lead just as a Canadiens power play ended at 14:49 of the second, but Nelson's wrist shot past Price at 7:25 of the third got the Islanders back to within a goal. The Canadiens, coming off a loss at home to the Coyotes on Thursday, looked every bit the fatigued team in the third, but the Islanders could not convert a mid-period power play nor on the six-on-five in the final minutes.
The Islanders pressed for the tie, controlling play in the Canadiens' zone until Brendan Gallagher blocked a shot and scored into an empty net to seal the Isles' fifth straight loss to the Eastern Conference leaders.
"We haven't had much success against them lately," Tavares said. "We're obviously trying to find a way to beat them, especially on home ice."
That will have to wait another season. There's a chance to rebound in just 48 hours in Montreal.