Carey Price could have used a 27th blocked shot by his Canadiens teammates, or a second trapper.
Manny Malhotra's one-time blast to the glove side from above the hash marks with five minutes left in regulation stood up for the San Jose Sharks in a come-from-behind 3-2 win on Thursday night.
Montreal pushed for the equalizer in the final minute with Price pulled for an extra attacker, but Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov thwarted Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec to deny the Canadiens their first win at HP Pavilion since Nov. 23, 1999.
Nabokov needed this kind of game after allowing six goals in less than two periods in Russia's Olympic loss to Canada last week and four goals to New Jersey in a 4-3 setback on Tuesday.
"It was pretty frustrating," said Montreal centre Scott Gomez, who had a goal and an assist. "We had a chance to take two points. Carey held us in there and they just got one by there at the end. We know we can play with anyone. That's a great [Sharks] team over there."
The loss, coupled with Boston's 3-2 shootout win over Toronto on Thursday night dropped 30-29-6 Montreal to eighth in the NHL's Eastern Conference standings with 66 points.
Canadiens 8th in East
The ninth-place New York Rangers and No. 10 Atlanta also have 66 points but fewer victories than the Canadiens with 29 and 28, respectively.
With the win, the 41-14-9 Sharks moved atop the Western Conference, two points ahead of the idle Chicago Blackhawks. They prevailed for just the third time in 17 games this season when they trailed after two periods. The Canadiens had been 19-1-0 when leading after 40 minutes.
Dany Heatley erased a 2-1 Montreal lead at 12:32 of the third period on his eighth scoring chance of the night with his 33rd goal of the season and 50th point in 39 career games against the Canadiens.
Earlier in the game, Heatley was robbed by the quick glove hand of Price, who finished with 37 saves in a sensational performance.
"That's the way it's going to be down the stretch," McLellan said. "I'm glad we got to play in that game. When you're in the middle of it and down a goal, you're wishing you could score. But we stuck with the plan and won the game. Those are good games for us to play in. I didn't sense anybody going off on their own. They stuck with the program."
Price certainly didn't hurt his chances of wresting away the starting job from Jaroslav Halak, who was rested after two cross-continent trips in three days.
Price the difference
He was the difference in the first period as the Sharks counted 11 scoring chances on 15 shots but walked to the dressing room trailing 1-0.
Price was equally tough in the middle frame. He made a glove save against Heatley after losing his stick. San Jose was awarded a penalty shot on the play because Montreal defender Hal Gill threw the goalie stick in Heatley's direction, but Boyle hit the crossbar on his attempt. The Sharks won the ensuing faceoff and Heatley rocketed a shot off the post.
Early in the third period, Price snared a laser shot off the stick of Heatley labelled for the far corner, but had little chance when the Canadian Olympian put the heel of his stick on the puck and watched it deflect off Price's left pad and through the goalie's legs with Canadiens defenceman Roman Hamrlik off for hooking.
"It's very good for our preparation for the playoffs," Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle said. "You're going to play in one of those games where the goalie is making big save, save after save. You can possibly get a little frustrated, which is easy to do. But we stuck with it. That's a good character builder."
Patrick Marleau, who earned an assist on the play, answered Brian Gionta's first-period score with his career-high 39th goal of the season and first in seven starts. It was San Jose's eighth short-handed goal of the campaign and fourth by Marleau.
The Canadiens regained the lead 73 seconds later on a Gomez power-play marker.
Montreal continues its three-game West Coast swing in Los Angeles on Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 10 p.m. ET).