MONTREAL (CP) - The Montreal Canadiens dug deep for a win to stay in the NHL Eastern Conference playoff race.
Guillaume Latendresse, with his second of the game, Christopher Higgins and Tomas Plekanec scored in the third period as the Canadiens posted a comeback 5-3 victory over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.
The win kept 11th-place Montreal (35-30-6) in the hunt for the eighth and final playoff spot with five teams, including the seventh-place Islanders (34-25-10), now separated by only two points.
"It's huge," said Higgins, a Long Island native. "I thought we were playing a better game than they were but we were behind after two periods.
"We were all confident we'd score and we got some big goals at the end. We'll take it. We need to put some wins together."
Michael Ryder had the other goal for the Canadiens, who won for the ninth time this season when trailing after the second period and handed the Islanders their first loss while leading after two.
Alexei Yashin, Ryan Smyth on a penalty shot, and Marc-Andre Bergeron scored for the Islanders, who lost for only the sixth time in 28 games since Jan. 9. It was only the fourth time in 23 games they failed to pick up a point.
"It was a great chance to put them six points behind but now they're right there," said Bergeron. "We have our destiny in our own hands but we found a way to complicate things."
The Islanders also lost No. 1 goaltender Rick DiPietro at 15:41 of the first period after a high-speed collision at the blue-line with Steve Begin.
As DiPietro skated out to prevent a breakaway, he was hit on the head by Begin's onrushing knee. He was taken to hospital for tests and returned to the Bell Centre later. The team said only that he suffered a blow to the head.
Mike Dunham took over in goal and made 27 saves as Montreal outshot the Isles 40-27.
"Mike did a great job," added Bergeron. "He kept us in the game probably longer than we deserved."
Begin was also shaken up but returned for the second period.
It was a big night for Montreal rookies Latendresse and Andrei Kostitsyn, who assisted on all three third-period goals.
Latendresse's second goal of the game and fourth in the last three matches at 8:58 of the third period tied the game at 3-3 as his rifle shot from the slot needed to be confirmed by video review.
Higgins got the game-winner when he banged in Kostitsyn's feed from behind the net at 11:26 and Kostitsyn dropped a pass to Plekanec for a goal on the rush at 18:34.
"Andrei is a dominant player when he wants to be," said coach Guy Carbonneau. "When he uses his speed, size and shot really well, that's the way we want him to play."
Yashin's bullet shot from the left faceoff circle left David Aebischer no chance for the opening goal at 9:35 of the opening period.
Smyth was hooked on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box and, after crashing Aebischer, was awarded a penalty shot and beat the Swiss goalie for his 33rd of the season 1:09 into the second frame.
Montreal tied it when Ryder set up Latendresse at 6:54 and Ryder lifted one in from the side of the net on a power play at 12:42.
Bergeron, who assisted on Yashin's goal, burst into a crowd in front of Aebischer and scored at 15:05. Since he was acquired from Edmonton on Feb. 18, Bergeron has four goals and eight assists in 10 games.
Smyth has two goals and four assists in six games for New York since he arrived from Edmonton on Feb. 27.
It was a second win in a row for Montreal after a 4-3 victory Saturday in St. Louis that followed a four-game losing run. The Canadiens are 14-22-1 since a strong start began to unravel on Dec. 23.
"Everybody was good," added Carbonneau. "We talked last week about how we needed 60-minute efforts and we got that.
"We needed people to step up and we got that too. There's a lot of pressure on the young players, but that's when you see if they have character. They responded well."
Notes: RW Alex Kovalev was a scratch after developing vertigo and C Radek Bonk was out with a flu for Montreal. . . D Mathieu Dandenault played forward for Montreal, while Michael Creighton backed up Aebischer for a second game. . . Bruno Gervais and Shawn Bates were out for the Isles, while Chris Simon is serving his 25-game suspension.