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In the Habs Room: Team effort leads Montreal back into playoff position

In the Habs  Room: Team effort leads Montreal back into playoff position
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Special teams made the difference in the  first period Thursday night and they paced the way for the Canadiens’ 4-0 win over the New York Islanders at the Bell Centre.

It was a key win for the Canadiens, who regained the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.  They moved one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who lost 4-1 in Edmonton.

The penalty-kill was up first and it kept the Islanders off the scoreboard after Montreal took back-to-back penalties in the first period, which gave the Islanders a two-man advantage for 21 seconds.

The situation was potentially dire because the two men in the penalty box were Jeff Petry and Shea Weber, two defenceman who are usually a major part of the penalty-kill. The Canadiens survived because they received strong efforts from Nate Thompson and Artturi Lehkonen. Their relentless forechecking resulted in a 3:39 span when the short-handed Canadiens outshot the Islanders 3-2.

“I just got into the scrums and battled and came out with the puck,” said Thompson, who had both of his shots on goal during his PK duty.

The Canadiens’ power play took over late in the period and Joel Armia scored the first power-play goal of his career with just over six seconds to play. He scored from the slot off a feed from Jordan Weal, who said the goal was a team effort.

“Shea did a good job keeping the puck in the zone and then (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) won the draw and I was able to find Army,” Weal said.

“The power play has gone through some bad times, but no one ever lost the confidence,” said Armia, who described his goal as pretty cool. “I hope it’s going to stay that way because we can really use a good power play right now.”

The power-play goal gave the Canadiens the momentum and they scored three goals on nine shots to start the second period, which that sent Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss to the bench.

“I think getting the first goal got things going a little bit, but even if we hadn’t scored that first goal, we were ready to play,” Armia said.

Thompson said the Canadiens took some motivation from their 2-1 loss to the Islanders last week. After that loss, Carey Price noted that the Islanders looked like a team that was ready for the playoffs. The Canadiens had that look Thursday.

“It was a good team effort,” said Weber, whose slapshot produced his 13th goal to start the second-period outburst. “Obviously, the penalty kill was big in the first. It built momentum and I thought we were pretty solid all night.”

The offence was led by the third and fourth lines, as Weal and Jonathan Drouin rounded out the scoring.

“I think our fourth line has been one of our best lines in the last little while, so I’m not surprised that we’re getting a consistent effort out of them every night,” Weber said.

Drouin, who has been in a slump for more than a month, scored his first goal since Feb. 7. He made it 3-0 only seconds after Carey Price made a big save on Jordan Eberle.

“We got our confidence back,” Drouin said. “We’re not scared to make mistakes. Not scared to lose … you got to play to win. I think the past couple of games have been a little different. The past two weeks were a tough stretch.”

Lehkonen, who played a key role on the penalty kill, led all forwards in ice time with 18:18. He’s still not scoring — he has one goal and no assists in his last 22 games — but  coach Claude Julien praised him for bringing stability to the No. 2 line with Max Domi and Andrew Shaw.

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