Niemi, Canadiens defeat Rangers 3-1 to snap 6-game skid
MONTREAL (AP) — After weeks without a win, the Montreal Canadiens finally found a team they could beat in the struggling New York Rangers.
Antti Niemi made 31 saves and the Canadiens topped the Rangers 3-1 on Thursday night to snap their six-game losing streak.
Tomas Plekanec, Jeff Petry and Phillip Danault scored for Montreal (23-29-8), which won for the first time since Feb. 4 and avoided matching its longest skid of the season.
“Regardless of what happens all year, this is the feeling you play for,” said Brendan Gallagher, who got his team-leading 36th point with an assist. “The more we can do this, the happier we’ll be. It’s rewarding. A lot of guys played a really good hockey game tonight and we got what we deserved.
“For the crowd, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to put smiles on their faces.”
The Canadiens have the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference and are 11 points out of a playoff spot.
“It’s been a frustrating year for everyone,” said Petry, who scored the game-winner in the second period. “It’s about playing a strong game. We have a lot to prove still, whether it be personally or as a team. Nobody wants to give up in here. We want to fight until the end.”
Niemi got the start in place of injured Carey Price.
Before the game, Montreal announced Price will be sidelined indefinitely with a concussion. The goalie took a shot to the mask in Tuesday’s loss to Philadelphia.
Earlier on Thursday, the Canadiens also announced Shea Weber will miss the rest of the season because he needs surgery for a torn tendon in his left foot. The 32-year-old defenseman, likely injured on opening night in early October, has not played since Dec. 16.
“Those are big losses for us,” Danault said. “We have to learn to play without them. It’s part of the game.”
Kevin Hayes scored for the Rangers (27-29-5), who have lost five in a row. Alexandar Georgiev, making his NHL debut, stopped 38 of 40 shots.
“I felt great about my game today,” said the 22-year-old Georgiev, who was solid throughout. “The guys played really great in front of me and blocked a lot of shots. It really helped me. I just played my game and it was very fun from the first second of warmups.”
Hayes spoiled Niemi’s shutout bid with exactly three minutes remaining. The Rangers’ forward appeared to have kicked the puck straight into the net, but instead deflected the puck with his stick before it crossed the line.
With Price and Weber out of the lineup, another veteran stepped up for Montreal.
Plekanec made it 1-0 at 6:59 of the first period with his sixth goal of the season. The 35-year-old beat defenseman Rob O’Gara to the puck and buried a no-look feed from Paul Byron.
In the second period, Charles Hudon connected with Petry on a 2-on-1 for Montreal’s second of the game at 3:50. Hudon’s saucer pass narrowly avoided Brady Skjei’s slide and landed right on Petry’s stick at the side of the net. Petry has scored 10 goals for the first time in his career.
The play got started with a big hit by Nicolas Deslauriers in the neutral zone.
Danault scored into an empty net from deep in his own zone with 1:17 left.
NOTES: After the game, the Rangers traded speedy winger Michael Grabner to the Devils in the first trade between the cross-river rivals. New Jersey sent a 2018 second-round draft pick and 20-year-old defensive prospect Yegor Rykov to New York. ... Grabner and Rick Nash were healthy scratches for New York, likely to avoid any injuries before Monday’s trade deadline. Two weeks ago, the Rangers organization, in a letter to fans, strongly suggested a roster overhaul was imminent. ... Montreal’s Noah Juulsen made his NHL debut. He finished with two shots, one blocked shot and four hits in 17:14 of ice time.
Rangers: Host the Minnesota Wild on Friday night.
Canadiens: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
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