VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) Defenseman Nikita Zadorov scored twice in the first period, Casey DeSmith made 16 saves and the Western Conference-leading Vancouver Canucks beat the struggling Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Garland and Nils Aman also scored and Ilya Mikheyev had two assists. Vancouver improved to 44-18-8, good for a three-point margin over Winnipeg, Colorado and Dallas.

“Obviously, they got one back late in the second and I don’t think we broke, I think we had our confidence,” Zadorov said. “It’s a young team. We’re learning still. There’s still time to learn before playoffs and I think we’ve been doing a good job.”

Juraj Slafkovsky scored for Montreal, and Sam Montembeault stopped 21 shots. The Canadiens have lost four in a row to fall to 25-32-12.

“We didn’t get a lot of sustained offensive-zone shifts,” Montreal assistant coach Trevor Letowski said. “We got a couple of decent looks from the interior but not nearly enough to score goals and win. It was just a game where we didn’t have a lot of answers offensively, but our guys played hard, we competed, but just couldn’t generate enough.”

The Canucks smothered the Canadiens in the final period, allowing just three shots.

“We didn’t give them much. That’s a fast team, they’re an up-and-coming team,” Canucks coach Riok Tocchet said. “I thought our third and fourth line did a nice job. Obviously, Nikita Zadorov getting a couple big goals for us. But I don’t think we gave them much of the high dangers.”

Zadorov opened the scoring with 4:22 left in the first period with a long shot over Montembeault’s glove as Sam Lafferty and Montreal defenseman David Savard battled for space directly in front of the net.

Vancouver made it 2-0 with 27 seconds left in the first off an odd-man rush. Lafferty sliced a crisp pass to Zadorov in the high slot and the hulking defenseman fired a shot that beat Montembeault to the blocker side.

Garland made it 3-0 with 2:46 left in the second, and Slafkovsky countered for Montreal with 53 seconds left in the period

Aman scored his first goal in 24 games midway through the third, deflecting in Tyler Myers’ shot. The Swedish center last scored Dec. 23.


Canadiens: At Seattle on Sunday night.

Canucks: Host Calgary on Saturday night.



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