Suddenly without anything to play for, the Florida Panthers went down meekly for the first time in five tries against the visiting (although it sure didn't sound that way) Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens in last night's 4-1 loss at the BB&T Center.
After being eliminated from playoff contention the day before, the Panthers struggled to get anything going, other than a good chance from Jaromir Jagr, for most of the opening period.
Montreal got on the board first at the 6:36 mark, courtesy of an interference call on Dmitry Kulikov, who knocked Max Pacioretty out of the game on the play, and a high-sticking infraction on Erik Gudbranson three seconds later.
The Canadiens feasted on the ensuing 5-on-3 opportunity when Tomas Plekanec took a pass from Andrei Markov while standing just above the goal line and whipped the puck through the legs of Cats' starter Dan Ellis. Alex Galchenyuk picked up the secondary assist on Plekanec's 200th career goal.
The Panthers, who finally came to life late in first, drew even with a power-play goal of their own at 6:20 of the second period, with Dale Weise in the box for delay of game.
After an Aleksander Barkov face-off win, Jonathan Huberdeau sent the puck back to Aaron Ekblad, who moved in and took aim on Carey Price before beating the Habs' netminder with a hard drive for his 12th of the season.
Montreal took the lead back just forty-six seconds later. P.K. Subban, who left the game earlier after taking a puck to the face, got loose down the wing and found Brendan Gallagher with a sweet cross-ice pass. Gallagher slammed an NHL '94 style one-timer into the back of the net for his 24th of the campaign. Plekanec collected his second point of the night on the play.
P.A. Parenteau added to the lead at 11:27 when he skated away from a disinterested Gudbranson and put the rebound of a Jeff Petry shot past Ellis. Plekanec drew his second assist and third point of the game with the secondary helper.
Devante Smith-Pelly completed the second period barrage with a one-timer after Cats captain Willie Mitchell coughed up the puck deep in his own end to Parenteau, who quickly sent it in front to his waiting line-mate. The goal came with 2:18 left in the disastrous stanza and was Smith-Pelly's first in the bleu, blanc et rouge of the Canadiens.
Florida would out-shoot Montreal 9-7 during a somewhat chippy third period, but fail to draw any closer, dropping their second straight in disappointing fashion after routing Carolina to open the final homestand of the season.
The Panthers are off until Thursday, when they host Boston Bruins before finishing out the 2014-15 schedule on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. Gerard Gallant has a few days to get his club to embrace the spoiler role and possibly throw a monkey wrench in the B's playoff plans.
Odds & Sods
- The ugly weekend left the Panthers with back-to-back defeats on home ice for the first time since January, when they were beaten by Vancouver on the 19th and Detroit on the 27th.
- Aaron Ekblad's second period tally ended a 14-game goalless drought for the rookie defender. This last time Eggs had lit the lamp was on March 3, in the "goalie-gate" loss to Toronto.
- Carey Price finished with 24 saves to post his 42nd win of the year while Dan Ellis turned aside 24 of the 28 shots he faced to fall to 4-3-1 since coming up from San Antonio.
- Brendan Gallagher was a force for the Canadiens, In addition to bagging the game-winner, the 22-year-old forward registered a game-high six shots, two blocks and dished out two hits.
- The Cats finished the five-game season series with Les Habitants with a 1-2-2 record. This was the only tilt that was decided by more than one goal.
- Jaromir Jagr and Jussi Jokinen each had five shots on goal to pace the Panthers. Dmitry Kulikov blocked a game-high four shots.
- The Panthers' penalty kill did a good job in limiting the dangerous Habs power play to just one goal on seven opportunities. One of the few bright spots in a sloppy, turnover filled game.
- Aleksander Barkov has points in two of his last three games, but the young center passed up a couple of golden chances right in front of the net that might of kept his team in game had he chose to shoot, instead of trying to make a really difficult pass to a player who was either covered or not there.
- The fittingly named Eyes On The Prize has the other side of last night's tilt.