SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Artturi Lehkonen was happy to be a part of the Montreal Canadiens’ division-clinching performance.
Lehkonen scored twice in the third period and had an assist to help the Canadiens secure the Atlantic Division title with a 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Monday night. Andrew Shaw and Alexander Radulov also scored for Montreal, and Charlie Lindgren stopped 31 shots in his second NHL start.
“When we clinch a spot, it’s always good news,” Lehkonen said. “Now we just have to keep building our game toward the playoffs.”
Lehkonen put Montreal ahead 2-1 at 1:27 of the third as he beat Florida goalie Reto Berra with a rising shot from between the circles high to the glove side. He made it a two-goal game when he followed Paul Byron’s breakaway attempt by knocking in the rebound for his 16th with 3:11 remaining.
“Of course, I’m just trying to help out the team in any way I can,” Lehkonen said. “Today I was fortunate enough to get a couple of bounces and I had a chance to go for a third one.”
The 23-year-old Lindgren had to stop a 3-on-1 rush midway through the third period to preserve the lead en route to his first win since beating Carolina 4-2 last April 7.
“One of the best nights of my life. Pure excitement,” said Lindgren, who family was in attendance. “I felt pretty relaxed. Nervous before the game, but once it gets going you go out and play. I feel I played pretty calm tonight.”
Jonathan Marchessault scored for Florida and Berra finished with 27 saves.
Montreal, 0-2-1 in its previous three visits, came out aggressively with point-back shots at Berra. The tenacity paid off as Shaw took a pass from Alex Galchenyuk and sent a wrist shot from close range past Berra’s stick side for his 12th with 6:48 to go in the opening period.
Marchessault tied it at 8:57 of the second as he took a cross-ice pass from Michael Sgarbossa and slipped the puck past a sprawled Lindgren for his 30th. It was a bittersweet accomplishment for Marchessault, who has 11 goals in his last 16 games.
“It’s an empty feeling. If you don’t make the playoffs it’s almost for nothing,” he said.
Radulov capped the scoring with an empty-netter with about 1 1/2 minutes left.
“We clinched first place, and now it’s (a matter of) continuing to try to improve ourselves as a team to make sure we head into the playoffs the right way,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said.
The Canadiens killed off a 5-on-3 short-handed situation late in the second period with Shaw and Phillip Danault serving minor penalties, to keep the game deadlocked. The Panthers managed only one shot over that 1:08 span with the Canadiens down two men.
“I think this team is truly on a mission,” Lindgren said. “It’s a good bunch in here. They’re dialed in and focused. It made my job pretty easy tonight.”
NOTES: Marchessault became the first Panther with 30 or more goals since David Booth totaled 31 in the 2008-09 season.Montreal was without D Sean Weber, scratched with a lower-body injury apparently suffered in the win over Tampa Bay on Saturday…Florida D Keith Yandle played in his 630th consecutive regular-season game, tying him for eighth place all-time…Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau played in his 300th NHL game, while Montreal’s Phillip Danault played his 100th career game with the Canadiens. … Former Panthers goalie Al Montoya missed his fourth straight game with a lower-body injury. He did participate in the morning skate.