Habs visit Panthers aiming to match longest win streak of season
(SportsNetwork.com) - The surging Montreal Canadiens will try to match their longest winning streak of the season when they visit the Florida Panthers for Saturday's clash at BB&T Center.
The Canadiens have boosted their standing in the Eastern Conference playoff picture lately, winning four straight and seven of their last eight games. Another victory on Saturday would match Montreal's five-game tear from Nov, 30-Dec. 7 for its longest winning streak of the season.
Montreal leads Tampa Bay by two for second place in the Atlantic Division with the top three teams from each division earning automatic bids to the playoffs. The Lightning, who visit Buffalo on Saturday, do hold a game in hand over the Habs.
With Boston close to clinching the division title and Tampa Bay nine points ahead of fourth-place Toronto, it seems likely the Canadiens and Lightning will face each other in the opening round of the playoffs. The teams finishing second and third in each division will face each other in the first round.
The Habs last played on Thursday when they pulled out a 5-4 regulation win in Detroit. Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek each scored during a wild third period to help Montreal down the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
The Canadiens held a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes only to see Detroit even the score on two goals from Tomas Tatar in the first 4:30 of the third period. However, Pacioretty gave the lead back to Montreal at 5:48 of the third and Vanek made it 5-3 with 8:45 remaining in the period. Detroit's Johan Franzen tallied 21 seconds after Vanek, but the Red Wings were unable to get even after that.
Vanek added a pair of assists and Tomas Plekanec potted a pair of early goals for the Canadiens. David Desharnais had a goal and an assist, while Carey Price survived the three-goal outburst by the Red Wings in the final frame during a 26-save effort.
"The second and third periods weren't good at all. We got lucky that we found a way to win," Plekanec said.
Thursday's test marked the start of a four-game road trip for Montreal, which improved to 21-14-2 as the away team this season.
Florida is ranked 15th out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and is about to miss the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons.
The Panthers have lost four of their last five games and were held to one goal or less for the third time during that stretch after Thursday's 3-0 home loss against Carolina. Jiri Tlusty tallied twice and Anton Khudobin posted a 35- save shutout to help the Hurricanes down Florida at BB&T Center.
Roberto Luongo started in net for Florida and stopped 11-of-12 shots in the first period, but the veteran netminder was forced to leave the contest prior to the start of the second after being run over by Carolina's Radek Dvorak with just over seven minutes left in the opening frame.
Dan Ellis recorded 18 saves in relief for the Panthers, who have lost four of their last five games. Luongo will miss Saturday's game with an upper-body injury, leaving Ellis to make his third start of the season tonight since being acquired from the Dallas Stars.
"It's never a fun situation because you know your partner, something might not be good with him," Ellis said of coming on in relief of an injured Luongo. "But that's the job and you have to be ready when they call you."
Florida is 14-16-5 as the home club this season and is completing a three-game stay in Sunrise. The Panthers will then play their next two tests on the road before finishing the regular season on a five-game homestand.
The Panthers are 2-1-0 against Montreal this season, but the Habs won the last encounter when it posted a 2-1 home victory on Jan. 6. The Canadiens have won four of six overall in the series, but Florida is 3-1-1 in the last five encounters at BB&T Center.
03/29 10:49:19 ET