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Isles prevent Canadiens from clinching playoff berth

by Brian Compton

UNIONDALE , N.Y. -- The Montreal Canadiens' bid to clinch a playoff berth will have to wait for another day.

Montreal was just 2:01 away from locking up a playoff spot before Frans Nielsen erased a 3-2 deficit and then scored one of two goals in the shootout against Jaroslav Halak as the Habs fell 4-3 to the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday night.

Montreal (39-32-9) needed two points to clinch a playoff spot, thanks to the Philadelphia Flyers' win against Toronto. The Canadiens are aiming to finish as high as sixth in the Eastern Conference.

"It's disappointing," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said. "There were only a couple of minutes left in the game. I thought we were in a good position."

Martin Biron made 28 saves for the Islanders (34-35-10), who were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on Monday night when the Boston Bruins reached overtime at Washington. Biron is 7-0-2 in his last nine starts and helped the Isles avoid a season-series sweep by Montreal.

"We didn't beat them all year so we wanted to come out and get a little bit of revenge," rookie center John Tavares said. "It was a good win by us. I thought we dominated, especially in the third period."

Blake Comeau continued his torrid scoring pace 12:29 into the game when he one-timed a nice backhand feed fromSean Bergenheim past Halak as the Isles grabbed a 1-0 lead. It was Comeau's 17th goal of the season and fifth in his last four games, and snapped Halak's shutout streak at 156:30 -- Halak came to Long Island after consecutive shutout wins over Philadelphia and Buffalo.

"I thought he played well," Martin said of his goalie. "He didn't have a chance when you look at the goals."

Montreal tied it when Tomas Plekanec notched his 25th goal of the season at 7:08 of the second period. Plekanec, an unrestricted free agent on July 1, took a pass fromAndrei Kostitsyn and fired a wrister from the left circle that beat Biron through the legs to make it 1-1.

Brian Gionta gave the Habs a 2-1 lead when he scored on the power play just 2:36 later. After Josh Bailey was whistled for his second penalty of the night, Gionta pounced on Josh Gorges' rebound and slammed it past Biron for his 26th goal of the season.

"They came out pretty strong and we came out fairly flat," Gionta said. "I thought the second period we played pretty good, and the third period we sat back too much."

Indeed the Habs did, as Bergenheim tied the game 2:01 into the third. With the teams at even strength, Bergenheim made a nice move around Habs defenseman Roman Hamrlik and fired a laser past Halak to make it 2-2. It was Bergenheim's 10th goal of the season.

"Right now, I think even though we're out, everybody's loose," said Bergenheim, who had a three-point night and was named the game's first star. "We're playing with more of a positive atmosphere with winning games. When we're down and we still get the win, I think it shows that this team has grown."

But Lapierre put Montreal back in front at 6:20, when Mathieu Darche sent him in on a breakaway. Lapierre, who entered with just six goals in 73 games, beat Biron with a backhander to make it 3-2.

Nielsen tied the game with his 12th goal of the season. The Danish center, who has established himself as a solid two-way player, took a pass from Richard Park and ripped a wrist shot from the slot past Halak to make it 3-3. The Isles outshot Montreal 12-9 in the third period.

"I was looking at the scoreboard in the third period," Plekanec admitted. "I saw the Rangers were down (in Buffalo). But we were trying to focus on our game."

The Islanders had a golden opportunity to win the game in overtime when Andrei Kostitsyn was whistled for hooking with 1:49 remaining. But they failed to convert and the game went to a shootout.

Montreal came up empty in the shootout, as Biron denied both Lapierre and Mike Cammalleri. Matt Moulson scored in the opening round before Nielsen beat Halak via the backhand.

"It's just an empty feeling knowing that we let that extra point slip away," Gorges said. "We didn't play our best tonight, and that's the disappointing part. It's frustrating right now because that was a big extra point."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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