Game preview: Canadiens @ Panthers
CANADIENS (42-26-7) vs. PANTHERS (27-39-8)
Having extended their winning streak to four games in Detroit, the Habs are on the road again to take on the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.
On Thursday, the Canadiens walked into Joe Louis Arena and ended a five-year winless streak in the Red Wings’ building. Tomas Plekanec struck early with his 19th and 20th goals of the year to give the visiting team a two-goal cushion going into the intermission. Riley Sheahan and David Desharnais exchanged goals in the second period to maintain the status quo. In the final frame, Tomas Tatar broke out for two goals in the first five minutes to tie the game at three-apiece. Fortunately for the Montrealers, the Vanek-Desharnais-Pacioretty line took over the game and put two more puck past Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard. Johan Franzen made it a one-goal game with his sixteenth, but the Habs were able to hang on until the buzzer for their 42nd win of the season. Carey Price made 26 saves on 30 shots.
Meanwhile, the struggling Panthers were shut out 3-0 by the Carolina Hurricanes at home on Thursday night. Prodigal son Roberto Luongo made the start but left the game with injury after making 11 saves in the first period. Dan Ellis replaced the Montreal native in nets and went 18-for-20 the rest of the way. Coach Peter Horacek’s troops were blanked despite generating 35 shots on net against an in-form Anton Khudobin. Rookie Dmitry Kulikov played big minutes (27:06, a team-high) in the absence of first-pairing defenseman Tom Gilbert, out for the season with sports hernia surgery.
Beside the aforementioned Luongo and Gilbert, the Floridians will also be playing without Aleksander Barkov, Tomas Kopecky and Alex Petrovic. Jonathan Huberdeau is nearing a return to action from a lower-body injury and could go against the Canadiens.
Tomas Plekanec did not travel with the team to Florida and has returned to Montreal to attend to family matters. Brandon Prust, Travis Moen and Dale Weise are also not with the team due to injuries. George Parros draws back into the lineup against the Panthers as does Douglas Murray who will replace Jarred Tinordi.
Since beating New Jersey 5-3 on March 14, the Panthers have won two games, both one-goal contests, and lost four. The non-playoff team is ranked 28th overall in the NHL for goals for, and 27th overall in goals against. However, the Panthers actually hold the best all-time head-to-head record against the Canadiens among all NHL franchises. Though the Habs hold a winning percentage superior to 0.600 against 21 opponents, it has only won 51.3% (35-33-6-3) of all contests against Florida.
Saturday’s game will be the fourth and final meeting between the teams this season. The Habs won 2-1 at the Bell Centre on January 6, 2014 thanks to a game-winning tally from captain Brian Gionta.