MONTREAL (CP) - Having recently suffered a seven-game losing streak fuelled by a flu bug of their own, the New York Rangers weren't about to show any sympathy for the flu-ravaged Montreal Canadiens.
Matt Cullen's second goal of the game late in the third was the winner as the Rangers earned their fourth straight victory with a 4-3 win over the depleted Montreal Canadiens Saturday afternoon.
'We were sick and depleted a couple of weeks ago and we went on a seven-game losing streak, so teams didn't really feel sorry for us,' said Rangers winger Brendan Shanahan, who set up Cullen's winner. 'I guess you can feel for them, but at the same time you try to take advantage of them. We talked about going into the third period and putting a lot of pressure on their team and their defense.'
Martin Straka and Michal Rozsival also scored for the Rangers (22-17-4), who lost the services of their leading scorer Jaromir Jagr in the second period due to a slight groin pull.
Mark Streit, Tomas Plekanec and Sheldon Souray scored for the Canadiens (23-13-5), who lost their second straight and their fourth in five games.
Despite missing captain Saku Koivu and rookie winger Guillaume Latendresse with the flu, Habs sniper Christopher Higgins saw no reason why Montreal couldn't win the game.
'I guess we'd like to use that as an excuse, but when we have a team on the ice we're expected to win,' Higgins said. 'We're just missing a little something. We still have to pick up the intensity and the effort despite how guys are feeling out there.'
With the game tied 3-3, the Rangers got the winner at 13:55 of the third period after Shanahan beat Janne Niinimaa to a loose puck in the Montreal zone and fed the trailing Cullen, who beat David Aebischer with a wrist shot just under the crossbar for his ninth goal of the season.
'I've been focusing a lot in practice on shooting the puck better,' said Cullen, who scored both his goals with precise wrist shots to the top corner. 'Last year I shot the puck really well, so that's something I've been concentrating on in practice.'
Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau didn't like how his team reacted on the decisive goal.
'I think they took us by surprise,' he said. 'Janne should have been a little more patient and looked behind him to see if anyone else was coming. Brendan Shanahan wasn't dangerous in the corner.'
Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves to earn his 18th win of the season for the Rangers, while Aebischer made 30 stops for the Canadiens.
Souray's goal was his 11th this season on the power play, tying a Canadiens record for defensemen set by Guy Lapointe in 1974-75 and matched by Mathieu Schneider in 1993-94 and Patrice Brisebois in 2000-01.
Koivu and Latendresse were replaced in the Habs lineup by Maxim Lapierre and Mikhail Grabovski, who were both called up from the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League on Friday evening.
Grabovski, making his NHL debut, started the game centring a line with Alex Kovalev and Sergei Samsonov and had what looked to be his first career goal waved off by referee Marc Joannette at 8:50 of the second period.
'He was good,' Carbonneau said of the rookie. 'He has a lot of speed and he has some good hands. I thought for his first game in the NHL, he played really well.'
Also scratched for the Canadiens were Garth Murray (hand) and Aaron Downey (healthy) as Carbonneau had defensemen Mark Streit and Mathieu Dandenault dressed as fourth-line wingers.
Centre Radek Bonk left the game early in the second period and went for X-rays after being hit in the face with a puck for the second time in three weeks. Bonk did not return, further limiting Carbonneau's options up front, and he is questionable for Sunday's home game against New Jersey.
Carbonneau said Koivu and Latendresse will most likely be able to play on Sunday.
Jagr, who entered the game fourth in NHL scoring, played sparingly in the second period and did not come out for the third.
With the game tied 2-2, the Rangers started the third on a power play and capitalized 38 seconds in when Rozsival's point shot beat a screened Aebischer for the defenseman's fifth of the season.
But Montreal tied it 3-3 on the power play at 8:40 of the third when Souray hammered a slap shot to the top corner for his 14th of the season.
The Rangers went ahead 1-0 at 10:20 of the first period when Cullen took a Fedor Tyutin feed at the Canadiens blue-line and cut between Craig Rivet and Francis Bouillon before picking the top corner on Aebischer.
New York took a 2-0 lead on Straka's 22nd of the season, but the Canadiens came back with two power-play goals to go into the third tied 2-2.
Streit scored his third on a one-timer from the point at 10:25 of the second while Plekanec scored his sixth of the season by converting his own rebound at 14:14 of the second.
Notes: Souray is seven short of the NHL record of 18 power-play goals by a defenceman set by Denis Potvin in 1974-75 and matched by Adrian Aucoin in 1998-99. ... The Canadiens play another afternoon game Sunday at 3 p.m. when they host the New Jersey Devils. ... The afternoon game drew a sellout crowd of 21,273. ... The Rangers were missing D Karel Rachunek (foot)
Grabovski grabs attention in NHL debut