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Ground gained: Panthers, Luongo bounce back with key 2-0 shutout over Canadiens

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Cats blank lowly Montreal for the third straight time

NHL: Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers and goaltender Roberto Luongo bounced back from a sub par performance against Edmonton with a solid, and much-needed, 2-0 road win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night at Bell Centre.

After a slow start that saw Antti Niemi deny Evgenii Dadonov on a breakaway, the Cats picked things up late in a penalty-filled first period and took the lead when Aaron Ekblad picked off a clearing attempt and slickly worked his way by Jeff Petry and beat the Montreal goaler with a sweet backhand with 1:29 left in the frame.

The Canadiens appeared to tie the game seventeen seconds later, but Jacob de la Rose’s goal was waived off for offsides after the Panthers challenged.

Florida bombarded the well-traveled Niemi in the second period, but the one-time Panther made 19 saves to keep his latest club within one.

Roberto Luongo made a nice glove save on Brendan Gallagher’s shorthanded bid early in the third period to keep the Cats a goal up. The stop was one of Luongo’s 28 on his way to his third shutout of the season.

Aleksander Barkov finally delivered the dagger at the 6:23 mark. With Florida applying extreme pressure, Mike Matheson held the puck in the Montreal zone and fed Nick Bjugstad, who dropped it back to Mark Pysyk at the point. Pysyk passed to Barkov in the left circle and his centering attempt for Bjugstad struck another former Panther, Logan Shaw and flew past Niemi.

Two days after crapping the litter box against the Oilers, the Panthers blanked the struggling Canadiens yet again to pull within three points of the New Jersey Devils, with two games in hand, for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It wasn’t pretty, but take the two points and move on. Revenge-minded Florida will visit the Senators in Ottawa tomorrow night, while the Devils will finish off their run through California in San Jose.

Full Highlights (courtesy of NHL.com)

Poutine & Bagels

  • After losing the first meeting this year, the Panthers blanked Montreal three consecutive times. The Canadiens have been held without a goal 12 times this season, most in the NHL.
  • Roberto Luongo tied Tony Esposito and Ed Belfour for ninth place all-time with his 76th career shutout.
  • Antti Niemi, who made two appearances for Florida earlier this season, stood on his head and stopped 38 shots to keep the game from getting out of hand.
  • Aaron Ekblad’s game-winner tied him with P.K. Subban and Alex Pietrangelo for the second -most goals (15) by a defenseman. Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton is the current league-leader.
  • Florida captain Derek MacKenzie played his 600th NHL game.
  • Montreal failed to take advantage of a bunch of Florida penalties, going 0 for 5 on the power play. The Panthers might want to play a cleaner game against the Senators.
  • Aleksander Barkov, who led all skaters with six shots, snapped a six-game goalless drought with his third period clincher.
  • Eyes On The Prize has the Olé, Olé, Olé-less other side of the season finale. See you in 2018, Montreal.