Fighting for their playoff lives, the Montreal Canadiens put in a big effort — and got a big win in return — Thursday night.
Alex Kovalev recorded three points, and Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov both tallied a goal and an assist to lead the visiting Canadiens to a convincing 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders.
The win, combined with the New York Rangers' 4-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, allowed the Canadiens to leapfrog the Rangers in the Eastern Conference playoff race with five games left in the regular season.
The Canadiens sit in seventh place with 90 points while the Rangers (89 points) hold down the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Florida Panthers (87 points) are ninth.
Montreal (40-27-10) has a game in hand on the Rangers, and will visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 6:30 p.m. ET).
"We're not looking at where we're at in the standings, we're just looking at winning games," Habs forward Alex Tanguay said. "Points are crucial and it's going to be no different for us Saturday in Toronto."
With No. 1 goalie Carey Price sidelined due to sickness, backup Jaroslav Halak had a relatively easy night, stopping 26 shots.
Halak, who helped carry the Canadiens when Price struggled badly in January and February, hadn't played since allowing five goals in a March 21 home loss against Toronto.
Special teams play was the key to victory for Montreal, who scored at least one goal with the man advantage for the fifth consecutive contest.
"I'm upset about the penalties," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said after the Islanders gave Montreal eight power plays. "If you're going to take a penalty, it's to save a goal. I don't think there were too many saved goals tonight."
The Habs took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission on the strength of a pair of power-play markers.
Koivu scooped up a loose puck in the slot and beat Islanders goalie Yann Danis with a backhander through the pads at 13:03. Mathieu Schneider ripped a slapshot by Danis with 1:29 left in the period.
Montreal picked up where it left off in the first period, scoring two goals early in the middle frame as Tanguay netted his 15th of the season at 1:11 and Markov tallied Montreal's third power-play marker of the game two minutes later.
The Tanguay-Koivu-Kovalev line has registered 27 points in the five games it has been together and scored 12 of Montreal's last 21 goals.
"We had success in the first game and kept going," Koivu said. "The whole team is playing a whole lot better right now."
The Islanders finally got on the board midway through the period, when Jeff Tambellini's wicked slapshot flew over Halak's shoulder.
Mike Komisarek's second goal of the season 44 seconds into the third period restored Montreal's four-goal lead and put the game away.
All-star defenceman Mark Streit and rookie winger Kyle Okposo, the team's two leading scorers, both sat out for the Islanders because of groin injuries.
Forward Dean McAmmond was also sidelined due to illness.