The Montreal Canadiens can clinch a postseason berth with another win, and if it comes Saturday night, it’ll be at the expense of the playoff chances of another.
The Florida Panthers continue their push on the third stop of a five-game road trip, hoping to gain ground on Ottawa and Boston in the chase for the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 spot.
Montreal (46-21-8) has dropped consecutive games to fall a point back of the New York Rangers and Anaheim in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy, though it has already matched its 100-point total from a season ago. The Canadiens are within five points of their highest total since managing 115 in 1988-89 – the 2007-08 team finished with 104 – but they have more immediate concerns.
After Thursday’s 5-2 loss in Winnipeg, their power play has gone 0 for 9 over five games, and it’s part of a 6-for-59 (10.2 percent) slump spanning 24 contests.
"The power play has to be better, we know that," forward Brendan Gallagher told the team’s official website. "The power play could have changed the outcome. We had enough chances. We felt our game plan was fine; we just didn’t execute it."
The makings of some offense was there with 41 shots, but Montreal was limited to two goals for a third straight game.
"We were able to create some scoring chances, but there’s a difference between creating them and putting them in," said Gallagher, who scored for a fourth straight game and has three goals in three meetings with the Panthers (34-26-14) this season. "I think we need to bear down."
The Panthers, winners of three of four, seem to already be doing so. Thursday’s 4-1 win in Toronto has them three points back of the Senators and Bruins, but Ottawa has a game in hand.
Florida is 0 for 16 on the power play over the last six games, though the penalty kill has gone 16 for 17 in the past eight. That’s helped the Panthers limit teams to 12 goals in seven games.
"Right now, we’re in playoff mode," goaltender Roberto Luongo said. "Every game is so crucial. These are moments that the younger guys are going to learn from and use going forward in their careers. At the same time, we believe in our team and we’re just going to keep plugging away and see what happens."
Center Brandon Pirri scored twice against the Maple Leafs, giving him seven goals in the last seven games. His 17 goals in 22 contests since Jan. 19 rank among the league leaders, despite missing nine and playing 17 seconds in another. Every other player in the top 25 in that time has played at least 26 games.
Luongo is 3-1-0 with a 1.55 goals-against average in five games this month and will get another start. He’s 1-0-1 with a 1.38 GAA this season against Montreal.
Luongo is expected to face Carey Price, who didn’t play against the Jets and has two shutouts in a 2-0-1 span. Price had won four straight starts against the Panthers behind a 0.75 GAA before losing 3-2 in a shootout at home Feb. 19.
Montreal is 2-0-1 in the season series but each game has been decided by a goal with two going to shootouts. The latest was a 3-2 Canadiens’ victory in Florida on March 17.
The Panthers are 0 for 8 on the power play and Montreal is scoreless in six chances in the three meetings.