For the second straight game, the Florida Panthers outplayed one of the best in the Eastern Conference and again came up just short, falling 3-2 this time to the Montreal Canadiens at an almost-full BB&T Center.
Dustin Tokarski earned First Star honors for his 41-save performance. Florida's Dan Ellis, making his sixth straight start, made 22 stops and saw his record drop to 3-2-1 in aid of injured Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya.
The Cats got off to a good start before allowing Montreal to start to tilt the ice as the first period progressed. The Habs took a 13-9 advantage to the dressing room as both goalies kept clean sheets.
After killing off a hooking minor on Jaromir Jagr, the Panthers drew first blood at 4:20 of the second stanza. Jonathan Huberdeau made a nice move after picking up a loose puck in the Montreal zone, but his crossing pass to Jagr was off the mark. Fortunately, Aleksander Barkov was there to collect the garbage for his twelfth goal of the campaign, spin-o-rama style.
The Habs quickly tied things up after Brandon Prust outworked Cats' defenseman Brian Campbell behind the net and fed Alexei Emelin above the left circle. Emelin beat Ellis, who was screened by Manny Malhotra and Vincent Trocheck, for his third goal.
Malhotra would head to the box just over a minute later and it would be Montreal who cashed in on the ensuing Florida power play. Jacob De La Rose rapped the puck of his own zone, setting up an unforgivable 2-on-0 break with Prust. The veteran forward skated in on Ellis before sending the biscuit back over to De La Rose, who smacked it into the yawning cage to put the Habs on top for the first time.
The Panthers answered at the 13:58 mark when Brad Boyes made a nifty little feed to Brandon Pirri, who flicked it past Tokarski with a little help from the far post. Nick Bjugstad drew the secondary assist on Pirri's sixteenth of the year.
Les Habitants would collect the go-ahead goal with 4:34 remaining in the frame, again in large part to Campbell, who finished a dreadful minus-three on the night. Campbell chose unwisely when he knocked the puck off the netting of the Florida goal instead of letting play be blown dead. The Canadiens quickly collected the puck and sent it out to the deangerous P.K. Subban, who ripped it by Ellis. Lars Eller and De La Rose got the helpers on Subban's thirteenth.
The Cats made a huge push in the third period, firing a whooping 21 shots on Tokarski. Unfortunately for the home side, the 25-year-old goaltender was up to the task, stopping everything thrown his way, including the output on three more ill-fated Florida power-play opportunities.
Jagr's hooking penalty with fifteen seconds remaining, and his team desperately trying for the equalizer, put the punctuation mark on another frustrating night of offensive hockey for the Panthers, who saw the Senators win again and the Bruins get past regulation time to capture another point. Boston now owns a seven-point advantage on the Cats with time running out on the season.
Cote et Extremites
- Brandon Pirri has now scored in three straight games and his ten shots on goal led all skaters. Pirri has 13 goals in his last 18 games.
- Former Panther blueliner Tom Gilbert blocked a game-high six shots and had one hit in 22:17 TOI.
- Aleksander Barkov's goal was his twenty-fifth point of the season, establishing a new career-high for Florida's prized youngster.
- The Cats have now played in a league-leading 43 one-goal games.
- The win put Montreal on top of the Atlantic Division with 95 points. The Habs have won five of their last six at the very friendly confines of the BB&T Center.
- In addition to out-shooting the Bleu, blanc et rouge 43-25, the Cats outhit them by a 35 to 22 margin.
- Jimmy Hayes saw his goalless drought grow to fourteen games. Vincent Trocheck has failed to ignite the red light in his last nine outings.
- The "Goal of a Lifetime" competition between Bill Ruggiero and Dustin Smith ended in a tie, meaning both goaltenders will get to practice with the Panthers today. Congratulations guys! You looked good out there.
- Eyes On The Prize has the opposing viewpoint, check it out.