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Canadiens 2, Islanders 0 @NHLdotcom

MONTREAL (AP) - Before this season, Cristobal Huet might have been the only person to believe he could lead the Montreal Canadiens into the playoffs.

His coach certainly didn't think so.

"No idea," said Bob Gainey, who also serves as general manager.

Huet made 36 saves for his sixth shutout to lead the Canadiens to a 2-0 victory over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night. He has recorded all of his shutouts since wresting the starting job away from Jose Theodore on Feb. 2.

"He went through some adversity early in the year with his injury and he battled through, he worked really hard," Canadiens captain Saku Koivu said. "There were no guarantees on his future with us and he stayed positive and right now it's paying off for him. When you see that a teammate won't give up, it's a great feeling.

"Right now, hopefully he can battle through these next couple of weeks and play as well as he's doing."

Rookie Chris Higgins scored his third goal in two games in the first period for Montreal, which along with New Jersey moved into a three-way tie with Tampa Bay for sixth in the Eastern Conference with 81 points.

Radek Bonk scored his fourth in three games into an empty net as the Canadiens moved five points ahead of ninth-place Atlanta with their fourth win in a row since a road loss to the Islanders on March 21.

Huet heard his name chanted by the sellout home crowd throughout the game.

"It's a nice boost for me, obviously, and for the guys, who played well," said the Frenchman, who was serenaded with his country's national anthem late in the second. "It was a pretty good feeling and good to use that."

He stopped 14 shots in the second and 10 in the third after facing 12 in the opening period.

"Some were a little bit lucky but the result is there," said the Canadiens goalie, who barely kept the puck from crossing the line on Miroslav Satan's wraparound attempt with 9.8 seconds remaining.

"It was probably an inch or two, nobody could see it because he was spread out over the goal line," Satan said.

Higgins got his 17th of the season 7:40 in to give Montreal the 1-0 lead they protected until Bonk doubled it in the final second.

"I can't believe it stood up," said Higgins, a Long Island native from Smithtown, N.Y., who scored twice in Montreal's 6-5 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday following the Canadiens' two straight home victories over Toronto.

Rick DiPietro stopped 34 shots for the Islanders, who dressed seven rookies and remain 12th in the East with 71 points. New York has lost five straight on the road (0-4-1).

"You move on. No one's got their head down," DiPietro said. "You're a professional athlete, you can't just cash it in because your chances of making the playoffs aren't that good. We've still got a chance to go 11 games here and put some pressure on teams and see what happens. Teams could go on losing streaks - and it's not unlikely that some teams start losing some games - and we can make up some ground."

Koivu, who hasn't scored in 23 games, assisted on Higgins' goal. Koivu has six assists in four games, including three against the Penguins on Sunday.

Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek, another Long Island native, was ejected at 14:47 of the first for fighting with Eric Godard. Komisarek got 27 minutes in penalties - a minor for instigating, a fighting major, a misconduct and a game misconduct - when he jumped on Godard and starting throwing a flurry of punches after Huet fell as the Islanders forward went by him.

"That's always nice but he should have stopped probably after a couple of punches, maybe," Huet said.

Huet made a fine save with his left pad to stop Jason Blake's shot in the first minute of the Islanders' ensuing five-minute power-play at the end of the first.

Chants of "Huet! Huet!" continued in the second when the Canadiens goalie came up with a glove save on Alexei Yashin 1:04 into the period and stopped Wyatt Smith moments later when the Islanders center took advantage of a turnover deep in Montreal's zone to drive in alone.

Notes: Islanders C Mike York didn't dress after he was hit in the face by a puck Monday in practice. ... The Canadiens have sold out each of their 34 home games. ... C Jan Bulis and RWs Niklas Sundstrom and Aaron Downey were healthy scratches for Montreal. Bulis has sat out three of four games.

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