Habs rout Panthers, snap seven-game slide
MONTREAL — After losing seven consecutive games for the first time since 1940, the Montreal Canadiens returned home to the Bell Centre hungry for a win.
Despite a lackluster performance in the first 20 minutes, the Habs put on a show for their home crowd in the second period, scoring three goals in less than two minutes en route to a 5-1 victory over the Florida Panthers.
Shea Weber scored twice, and Brendan Gallagher added a goal and an assist for Montreal (2-6-1). Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty had the Canadiens’ other goals, and Jonathan Drouin contributed two assists.
Carey Price stopped 26 shots for the win.
“It started with our goaltender,” Gallagher said, when asked about what was different about how the Canadiens played. “You know, 10 seconds into the game, he’s forced to make a big save, and he made plenty of them as the night went on.”
Keith Yandle opened the scoring for Florida (3-5-0). Panthers goalie James Reimer made 32 saves.
“Obviously you never want to lose, and you never want to lose 5-1,” Reimer said. “But we’ve got to pick up the pieces and get back out on Thursday.”
The teams each had 11 shots in the first frame, which marked the first time this season that the Canadiens did not allow a goal in the first 20 minutes.
Twenty seconds into the second period, a drop pass from forward Jonathan Huberdeau allowed Yandle to fire a hard shot from the high slot past Price. Center Aleksander Barkov also picked up an assist.
Forward Michael McCarron, who was a recent callup from Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket, took the game’s first penalty. The interference call came 4:13 into the second, giving Florida their first power-play opportunity of the night.
The Panthers weren’t able to capitalize on their chance with the extra attacker, though, and quickly found their 29th-ranked penalty kill on the defensive after taking four consecutive minor penalties. With Florida right winger Radim Vrbata in the box serving a holding penalty, a 95-second sequence began that the Panthers would surely like to get back.
Gallagher snatched up a Drouin pass and put it on the net. Galchenyuk was able to knock the rebound past Reimer, scoring his second power-play goal of the season, and his first goal since Oct. 14, at 16:44 of the middle period.
Moments later, with defender Mike Matheson serving a slashing minor, Weber fired a hard slap shot from the point, beating Reimer to give the Canadiens a 2-1 lead at 18:02. Announcer Michel Lacroix hadn’t even finish announcing Weber’s goal when Gallagher took a diving shot from the circle as he fell to the ice, scoring his third goal of the season, putting Montreal up 3-1 at 18:19.
“We started to take those stupid penalties because of the stupid plays we made on the ice, and that cost us the game,” Barkov said, when asked about Florida’s lack of discipline in the second period.
The Habs kept their foot on the gas in the third period, continuing to fire pucks in Reimer’s direction. With 10:49 left in the third, forward Artturi Lehkonen found Weber alone at the top of the circle. Weber fired the puck past Reimer, scoring his second of the night, giving Montreal a 4-1 lead.
“It seems like once we got the first goal, we started rolling from there,” Gallagher noted.
Pacioretty joined in on the scoring, as well, completing center Phillip Danault’s wraparound set-up, putting the Canadiens up 5-1 with 8:54 remaining.
Price put an end to the longest losing streak of his NHL career. After the game, the 30-year old netminder talked about whether this marked the turning point in the Canadiens season.
“I sure hope so,” Price said with a chuckle. “Win or lose, we’ve got to have the same mentality. We can’t get too high now, just realize what we did right and make it happen again next one.”
NOTES: The Panthers claimed G Antti Niemi from the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, as they are still without G Roberto Luongo, who is out with an upper-body injury. ... Niemi played in three games this season as Pittsburgh’s backup, producing a 7.50 goals-against average and a .797 save percentage. ... Canadiens C/LW Alex Galchenyuk was demoted to the fourth line by coach Claude Julien in practice Monday. ... Canadiens D Karl Alzner played his 600th career NHL game Tuesday. It also was the iron man’s 549th consecutive game.