Canadiens ride hot start, strong third period to victory over the Panthers
SUNRISE — The Canadiens went into Friday’s game against the Florida Panthers with the worst power-play record in the NHL, but Tomas Tatar scored with Montreal holding the man advantage at 8:54 of the third period to break a 2-2 deadlock and lift the Canadiens to a 5-3 win.
Tatar’s second goal of the night — and 14th of the season — came right after a two-man advantage for Montreal had ended.
Antti Niemi filled in for the injured Carey Price and he snapped a personal three-game losing streak to post his first win since Nov. 10. Niemi improved to 5-3-1 on the season. Niemi will probably play all three games on this trip because coach Claude Julien has ruled out a return for Price and the alternative is Michael McNiven, who has never played an NHL game.
The win enabled the Canadiens to move into the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 45 points. They moved one point ahead of the idle Boston Bruins.
The Canadiens had the good start they wanted, jumping to a 2-0 lead before the game was three minutes old.Tatar took advantage of a turnover by Michael Matheson to open the scoring at the 35-second mark. Tatar skated in front of the crease and lifted a backhander over Roberto Luongo’s glove for his 13th goal of the season.
Nicolas Deslauriers made it 2-0 when he deflected Victor Mete’s shot from the point at 2:51. The Canadiens could have been up 3-0, because Jesperi Kotkaniemi had a good look between the two goals, but his shot went off the post to the left of Luongo. The Finnish rookie also hit a post during a power play later in the period.
But the good start was wasted because the Canadiens went more than 10 minutes without a shot after taking the lead and the Panthers roared back to tie the game.
After Henrik Borgstrom scored from the slot, the Panthers got the bounce as Denis Malgin tied the score at 13:53. Niemi redirected a shot through the crease, but the puck bounced off Paul Byron’s skate and set up Malgin in front of the net.
Artturi Lehkonen scored what proved to be the winning goal on a beautiful pass from Andrew Shaw. It was Lehkonen’s seventh of the season. Keith Yandle scored a power-play goal with 1:16 to play to make things interesting, but Jonathan Drouin iced the game with an empty-netter for the final count.
Price has been placed on the injured reserve list retroactive to Dec. 22. That led to speculation he could rejoin the team in Dallas for the New Year’s Eve game against the Stars. Julien dismissed that possibility after the Canadiens’ morning skate Friday in Sunrise. He said Price would remain in Montreal to be examined by doctors and to rest. Julien said Price has been suffering through a lingering “irritant” for several weeks and that the condition became worse during Thursday’s practice.