Of all the games in this young season, this one was probably the only 'must win', not because the two points were critical, but purely for some major payback in what may very well be Jacques Martin's final game as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Ok, maybe it was a must win for the fans only, but what else would you expect from them after the reign of reckless managing/coaching that is only now being undone by Dale Tallon. Yes, any win against the Habs is sweet but tonight's win may just be the sweetest of all if poetic justice has a hand in it. You might want to check the papers tomorrow for any 'breaking' news out of the Montreal camp.
Despite the low score, I'd argue this was the Panthers best game of the season. Montreal played much better than their record would suggest, it took all 60 minutes (and almost more) to finally knock them off. The message sent from the Booth trade is still ringing in the ears of the Florida roster, if they want to make the playoffs, the effort shown tonight needs to be a fixture for the rest of the season. And some absolutely jaw-dropping goaltending never hurts either. More after the jump.
1st: The game started out just like the one on Saturday, a bad penalty very early (this time via a Tomas Kopecky trip) and a Canadiens powerplay goal (Max Pacioretty from Raphael Diaz, David Desharnais) put the Cats down early. The Panthers would sustain the speed and energy of the previous night after the penalty kill, but going down by one early makes it bit tougher. The Panthers would have a huge opportunity midway through the first when two Canadiens would break their stick resulting on essentially a 5-on-3, but Peter Budaj would stand tall and turn away multiple shots before the Habs defenseman could clear the puck. A few minutes later Scottie Upshall would fall victim to one of those 'help out the home team' penalties (kidding, sort of) with an interference call. The resulting powerplay would test Markstrom multiple times, including a quickfire sequence while he was sprawled on the ice. Josh Gorges would take a roughing call drawn by the slick moves of Jack Skille setting up the Panthers for their first powerplay of the night. It wouldn't take long for the PP unit to strike, Stephen Weiss would dump it in along the boards where Kris Versteeg would bring it out front and Tomas Fleischmann would chip it through Budaj's five hole (assist to Versteeg). The period would come to a close tied 1-1.
2nd: The Panthers would resume their puck possession style we saw in game 1 at the beginning of the second, rolling quick shifts and consistent pressure from all lines. A momentary drive from Mathieu Darche would test Markstrom again, but for the most part the first 6-7 minutes was all Florida. Montreal would awaken after multiple Florida drives with some puck possession of their own, forcing Florida into double shifts after consecutive icing calls. The Panthers would tread water for a good portion of the period, neither team could really set up and cycle the puck for more than 20 seconds. PK Subban would tie up Flash in the corner and take a penalty, giving the Panthers their second powerplay of the night. The Canadiens would only clear the puck once during the powerplay, Weiss would get a sorta-breakaway, Dmitry Kulikov would miss an open net and Kris Versteeg would have a shot tipped on a 2-on-1 with Fleischmann. Minutes later Desharnais would slash Jason Garrison's stick in half in the defensive zone, and the Panthers would be on another man-advantage. Again, the Habs could only clear the puck once in the two minutes. No scoring in those last few minutes after the powerplay, so the game would remain 1-1 after 40.
3rd: The Cats dodged a bullet as Kris Versteeg would return for the third period after receiving a huge hit from PK Subban, hopefully the leading scorer just had the wind knocked out of him. With Montreal desperate for a win, it was predictable they'd come out firing on all cylinders...except they didn't. You couldn't say the same for the Panthers, just five minutes in Kulikov would wrist a puck from the point and Scottie Upshall, the scapegoat in trade rumors, collector of offensive zone penalties, would be in the right place at the right time and tip the shot past Budaj for the Cats first lead of the game. Oh boy you could count the beads of sweat on Jacques Martin's face while the play was under review, not to mention the dejected look on his face when the goal stood up to the review. The Panthers would throw pucks on Budaj from all angles while the clock ticked down, Montreal would send a few Markstrom's way but the young Swede turned them all aside. Montreal would provide pressure for a good five minutes forcing the tired Florida skaters to ice the puck several times in the sequence (where have we heard that before?). With 50 seconds left Jason Garrison took a hooking call after pulling Desharnais to the ice,
Martin took the moment to call the last timeout in his coaching career. One Craig Anderson-esqe snow angel save later (one of 40!!!) and the Panthers escaped another tight game with two points.
- For being so tall you wouldn't expect Markstrom to be so dominant down low. This kid is simply phenomenal, the only question now is when does he take over for #1. He's just that good.
- If Jack Skille continues his surprising play(or perhaps start scoring), Tallon is going to look pretty smart for acquiring Skille. Sure, he doesn't appear on the scoresheet often but he must be a huge pain for the opponent's defenders. That Gorges penalty was all Skille's doing.
- Though Scottie Upshall is slumping in the scoring department, he's been making plenty of noise with all the hits he's dished out.
Only a matter of time before he gets a tap in or breakaway goal.Well, then. Nevermind.
- I watched Peter Budaj for a long time in Denver, though he certainly isn't #1 material he's a tremendous backup, his athleticism is second to none. If Montreal is serious about winning, Budaj needs to get his fair share of starts.
Shawn Matthias looked great out there, must be something about playing the Habs that brings out the best in him.
Erik Gudbranson had by far his best game. Not pummeling Travis Moen shows a ton of maturity and earned huge respect in my book.
- 5 Panthers finished +1, five Canadiens finished -1 (None finished in the "+" category)
- Marco Sturm had a good game tonight and kept his feet moving throughout. For a guy who struggled with injuries and icetime, gotta think he wants to prove his doubters wrong with his bajillionth team in the last 2 seasons.
Next up: Ottawa. The Senators are low in the standings but certainly shouldn't be overlooked because of it. They've burned tired Panthers teams in the past quite handily.