UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien smiled when a reporter asked him what his message was after a first period in which they were dominated by the New York Islanders.
"I let the players know I was disappointed," Therrien said with a Cheshire cat-like grin after his team bounced back from a poor first period to defeat the New York Islanders 3-1 on Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum. "Tonight we didn't compete in the first period."
But they found their legs in the second, when Andrei Markov and Brendan Gallagher scored goals 5:17 apart to put Montreal ahead. David Desharnais scored an insurance goal with 1:11 remaining in regulation.
Markov, playing his 800th regular-season game, tied the score 1-1 when his screened slap shot beat Islanders goaltender Chad Johnson 6:10 into the second period.
"It was a special game for me," said Markov, who was limited to 65 games in a three-season span from 2009-12 by a series of knee injuries. "To have the win is even more special."
Gallagher put the Canadiens ahead to stay at 11:27 when he put the carom of a blocked shot past Johnson. Desharnais sealed the win by tapping home Lars Eller's pass.
Carey Price made 37 saves for Montreal (22-11-2), which reached the Christmas break in first place in the Atlantic Division by winning the opener of a five-game trip.
Kyle Okposo had a first-period goal and Johnson made 18 saves for the Islanders, who lost for the fourth time in 17 home games. Johnson got his first start since Dec. 9; Jaroslav Halak, who was in goal for each of the four games during the winning streak, didn't dress. The Islanders recalled Kevin Poulin from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League to serve as Johnson's backup.
Despite the loss, the Islanders (23-11-0) reached the Christmas break in second place in the Metropolitan Division and have their best record at this point in the season since 1983-84. But captain John Tavares was looking at the points that got away.
"It's disappointing to end a good stretch," he said. "We didn't have that extra gear that we usually do. We really didn't generate a whole lot of great chances. We didn't seem to get those second and third opportunities."
The Islanders had nothing to show for their domination of the first 12 minutes of the game, in which they outshot the Canadiens 10-0. But they took the lead on their 11th shot, a one-timer by Okposo from the lower left circle off a pass by Tavares to finish a 2-on-1 break at 12:04. It was Okposo's eighth of the season.
The Canadiens didn't get a shot on goal until 13:51, when Johnson had to stop defenseman Tom Gilbert's long slap shot and then get in front of Gallagher's try on the rebound. His best save of the period came with four minutes remaining when he stood tall to stop Alex Galchenyuk from just outside the blue paint.
"We didn't win any battles in the first period," Gallagher said.
Price kept the Canadiens' deficit at one goal in the final 20 seconds of the period by stopping Okposo's wide-open shot from the slot and getting a piece of his deflection an instant before the buzzer. New York ended the period with a 1-0 lead and a 14-3 advantage in shots on goal.
"He gave us a chance to stay in the game," Therrien said of Price. "We showed character in the second [period] and after that we started skating more, our transition game was better and we started to play our game."
The Canadiens found their legs in the second period and tied the game at 6:10. P.K. Subban sailed a cross-ice pass to defense partner Markov, whose slap shot from inside the blue line went through traffic and beat Johnson cleanly for his fifth goal. Brandon Prust's screen kept Johnson from seeing the puck until it was past him.
Montreal continued to pick up the tempo and dominate play, then capitalized on a fortuitous bounce to go ahead at 11:27. Sergei Gonchar's slap shot from the high slot was blocked by Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey; however, the puck came right to Gallagher, who had gone to the front of the net, where he slipped it past a surprised Johnson for his 10th of the season and a 2-1 lead.
"I thought we ran out of gas," Okposo said of his Islanders' performance in the second period. "We looked like a tired team tonight. We didn't have that same jump in the offensive zone we usually do."
Price kept the Canadiens in front by stopping Lubomir Visnovsky's wide-open shot from near the right faceoff dot with five minutes left in the second period, then got in front of Tavares' deflection bid early in the third. The Islanders had 15 shots in the third period, but most of them were from the outside.
"We were much more responsible after the first period," Markov said. "We played a pretty good road game in the last two periods."