MONTREAL — In spite of Montreal's tumultuous season, which will likely end without the promise of playoff hockey, Brendan Gallagher says it's still "nice to win."
The Canadiens snapped a six-game losing streak on Thursday with a 3-1 victory over the struggling New York Rangers — Montreal's first win since Feb. 4.
"Regardless of what happens all year, this is the feeling you play for," said Gallagher, who earned 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."
Montreal (23-29-8) began its four-game homestand with a convincing win after dropping six straight. The Canadiens are 11 points out of a playoff spot with the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Antti Niemi, starting in relief of the injured Carey Price, made 31 saves. Tomas Plekanec, Jeff Petry and Phillip Danault, in the empty net, scored for the home team.
"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."
The Canadiens were handed two big blows before puck drop on Thursday.
The team announced Price will be sidelined indefinitely with a concussion, and veteran defenceman Shea Weber will miss the rest of the season as he undergoes surgery for a torn tendon in his left foot.
Price took a shot to the mask in Tuesday's loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Weber, who was likely injured on opening day, has not played since Dec. 16.
"Those are big losses for us," said Danault of Price and Weber's injuries. "We have to learn to play without them. It's part of the game."
With Price and Weber out of the lineup, another veteran stepped up for the home side.
Plekanec made it 1-0 for the Canadiens at 6:59 of the first period with his sixth goal of the season. The 35-year-old beat defenceman Rob O'Gara to the puck to bury 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.
Kevin Hayes spoiled Niemi's shutout bid with exactly three minutes remaining in the third period. The Rangers forward distinctly kicked the puck towards the net, but he deflected it with his stick before it crossed the line.
Danault scored into the empty net from deep in his own zone with 1:17 left on the clock.
Alexandar Georgiev, making his NHL debut, stopped 38-of-40 shots, for the visiting Rangers (27-29-5), who have lost five games in a row.
"I felt great about my game today," said the 22-year-old Georgiev, who was solid throughout the contest. "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 warm-ups."
Montreal's Noah Juulsen also made his NHL debut. He finished with two shots, one blocked shot and four hits in 17:14 of ice time.
Forwards Rick Nash and Michael Grabner were healthy scratches for New York, and shortly after post-game the Rangers announced Grabner was traded to New Jersey for a 2018 second-round pick and defenceman Yegor Rykov. Two weeks ago, the Rangers organization, in a letter to fans, strongly suggested a roster overhaul was imminent.