Letting points slip away could be especially detrimental to a team’s playoff chances in this shortened season, and that’s something the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers both have had trouble preventing lately.
The struggling teams meet Thursday night in Florida, where they’ll each try to avoid a fourth loss in five games.
Montreal has scored first in three of its last four contests, though it has only one victory to show for it. That came in a 4-3 shootout win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday – after it blew a 3-0 lead with less than six minutes remaining – as David Desharnais was the only player to score in the shootout.
Despite earning two points, the Canadiens (7-4-1) allowed a conference foe to pick up a crucial one that could prove big down the road.
“You know what? We came to win this hockey game, and this is what we did,” coach Michel Therrien said. “And we were almost perfect for 54 minutes. We opened the door. We will learn from it.”
Carey Price made 21 saves but has a 3.59 goals-against average while losing two of his last three starts.
“At the end of the day, as long as we’re getting wins, that’s what really matters,” Price said. “But, it would be nice to close out one, that’s for sure.”
It’s unclear if Price, who is 2-1-1 with a 1.23 GAA in his last four in this series, will get the start Thursday against Florida, which also can’t seem to hold onto a lead.
The Panthers (4-6-2) held a two-goal third-period advantage Tuesday before allowing three unanswered in a 6-5 overtime loss to Washington, which won the first game of the home-and-home set 5-0 on Saturday.
Florida has either scored first or held a multiple-goal lead in three of its last four, with the only win being a 3-2 shootout victory at Philadelphia on Feb. 7.
“It’s kind of a tough pill to swallow, especially (because) we know how in this season, every point is important,” said rookie Drew Shore, who scored his first NHL goal and added an assist Tuesday. “We let one slip away.”
Fellow rookie Jonathan Huberdeau scored twice and has a team-best five goals for the Panthers, who began a four-game homestand Tuesday.
“Right now it’s the most important part of the season,” defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “We need to come out here with as many points as we can. We need to create an identity for ourselves in our home rink.
“We have to play teams hard and be on top of them and use our crowd to our advantage and pull out some wins at home.”
Florida had its four-game winning streak over Montreal snapped with a 4-1 road loss Jan. 22 in the teams’ first meeting this season. Andrei Markov scored twice on the power play for the Canadiens and Price made 27 saves, allowing only Tomas Kopecky’s second-period power-play goal.
Jose Theodore, who won the Hart and Vezina trophies with Montreal in 2001-02, will get the start for the Panthers in this matchup. He’s 4-5-0 with a 3.41 GAA this season and 2-2-1 with a 4.60 GAA in six career regular-season appearances against his former team.