MONTREAL – Carey Price had a very strange case of goaltender's intuition strike him in the second intermission of Tuesday night's game between his Montreal Canadiens and the New York Islanders.
With the Habs nursing a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes, Price went up to Petteri Nokelainen in the dressing room and told him he deserved a goal because of the way he had been playing.
Nokelainen - a fourth line penalty-killing center - had scored only once all season, giving him 18 career goals in 217 games prior to Tuesday night's contest.
But sure enough, the former Islanders first-round draft pick went out for the third and scored the winning goal with 6:15 to play in regulation to sink his former club and give the Canadiens a 5-3 win at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.
"I actually told him he deserved one, those were my actual words to him in the second intermission," Price said. "Then he goes out and gets the winner. It was pretty cool."
Some would call it cool, others might call it an extremely random bit of foresight. Even Nokelainen found it a little strange.
"He's a magician, right? He stops those pucks like he's one, and he's got those mental skills," Nokelainen said. "That was actually pretty weird."
Andrei Kostitsyn, Mathieu Darche, Erik Cole and Hal Gill also scored for the Canadiens (13-11-7), who snapped a four-game winless slide at home to give their fans a victory for the first time since Nov. 19.
The Canadiens evened their record at home at 5-5-6, a mark that is not quite good enough according to center Lars Eller.
"This has got to be our building, it's got to be really hard to win in here," Eller said. "It hasn't been hard enough lately for the opposition. But hopefully we can build on this."
Over the four straight games the Canadiens lost on home ice, they held a 3-1 lead in two of them but wound up losing both -- once in overtime against Pittsburgh and another in a shootout against Vancouver.
The Canadiens held a 3-1 lead again early in the third period and handed it back to the Islanders, only to recover with Nokelainen's unlikely goal.
"It's something that weighs on your mind after a while," Price said. "Players will tell you different, but they're lying. When you come into a third period and you know you have a lead, you always think about it a little bit. It's been a recurring thing, and it just can't happen like that. It happened, but we found a way to win, and that's the difference. Usually we find a way to lose that."
It was also Montreal's second win in a row, snapping a run of 14 straight games dating back to Nov. 12 where the Canadiens were unable to string together two straight victories.
The Canadiens, however, have yet to lose in regulation in six games this month (3-0-3) and find themselves 9th in the Eastern Conference, well within striking distance of a playoff spot in spite of a myriad of injuries and a historically horrendous start to the season.
"I just think all the negativity is just left over from the six-game losing streak at the start of the year," Price said. "I think that's just been lingering around, and whenever something goes wrong everybody kind of magnifies it. I've always felt confident in our group. We've had a few guys out, and we still have guys out but we're finding ways to gather some points and we keep climbing (the standings)."
Matt Moulson, Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for the Islanders (9-13-6), who lost a second straight after an encouraging 4-0-2 stretch.
"Right now it's painful," Islanders captain Mark Streit said. "We came back, played a great third period, tied it up and after a long shift they score the game-winner. This just can't happen. Period. You play like that -- you're going to lose games. It's frustrating...I think the past two weeks we've been playing some pretty good hockey, but not tonight."
Al Montoya got his fourth straight start in goal for the Islanders in spite of the fact Evgeni Nabokov was fully recovered from a groin injury that cost him nearly a month of action, and he proved to be rather generous in allowing four goals on 28 shots. Two of the goals came on long, unscreened shots that Montoya allowed by him.
Over his last two starts, Montoya has allowed 10 goals on 59 shots.
But while Nokelainen's winning goal came from a long way out, Islanders winger PA Parenteau absolved his goalie of any blame.
"It was a heavy shot and Monty didn't see it," Parenteau said. "It was an absolute bomb from the blue line, so he couldn't do much there. But it wasn't a real (defensive) mistake. It's tough to swallow."
It was the Bell Centre debut for two Canadiens acquisitions. Chris Campoli was signed as a free agent in September but hurt his hamstring on opening night in Toronto on Oct. 6, missing 29 games before Tuesday night.
Fellow defenseman Tomas Kaberle was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday and collected two assists in his first game with the Canadiens on Saturday afternoon, a 2-1 win in New Jersey.
Kaberle added another assist on Montreal's first goal, giving him 7 points in his last four games dating back to his final two games in a Hurricanes jersey.
The Canadiens' Travis Moen, who is tied with injured captain Brian Gionta for third on the team in goals with 8, left the game midway through the first period with a lower body injury.
Moulson put the Islanders ahead at 7:50 of the first with his 15th of the season, but the Canadiens came back on a sharp-angle goal by Kostitsyn at 9:15 and a long shot by Darche at 13:28 that Montoya couldn't squeeze.
After a scoreless second period, Cole gave the Canadiens a 3-1 lead with his 11th of the season -- and 4th on the power play -- at 0:31 of the third. But Bailey scored on a pretty toe-drag at 5:18 and Tavares crashed the net to muscle his way to his 10th of the season at 11:28 of the third to tie it 3-3.
That's when Nokelainen came off the bench to take an Eller pass at the Islanders blue line to launch a long one-timer that found a corner behind Montoya at 13:45 for his second of the season.
"He probably takes 100 of those one-timers and he picks a corner once," Streit said. "It was a nice shot, but a little lucky as well."
Gill scored on a 160-foot empty netter for his first goal of the season, getting mobbed at the Canadiens bench afterwards and icing what has been a very rare occurrence in Montreal this season – a victory by the home team.