Preview: Panthers close out frustrating road trip against Canadiens
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m.
Nothing seems to have gone as planned for the Florida Panthers this season, including a current five-game road trip that has had mostly agonizing moments.
The Panthers (17-19-8) will wrap up the rough roadie Tuesday night in Montreal, where they will try to settle a score from last month when the Canadiens made their annual pre-New Year’s visit to South Florida on Dec. 28.
With Carey Price placed on the injured reserve the day before, the Canadiens turned to backup Antti Niemi, who had not played in the previous six games. In his previous start on Dec. 11, the 35-year-old Niemi had performed poorly, stopping just 16 of 23 shots by the Minnesota Wild.
However, he rebounded in Montreal’s 5-3 win over the Panthers, making a number of crucial saves in the final period. That script did not play out like Florida expected, nor have the first four games of the current road trip.
The Panthers allowed two short-handed tallies in a disastrous 5-1 loss in Pittsburgh, infuriating Florida coach Bob Boughner, who benched three players from the first power-play unit for most of the final 30 minutes — All-Star Keith Yandle, top points-scorer Jonathan Huberdeau and leading goal scorer Mike Hoffman.
Florida lost 4-3 in Edmonton in a shootout after the Oilers tied the game with eight seconds left in regulation on Thursday. The Panthers then ran out of gas the next night, squandering a two-goal lead in Calgary before again losing 4-3. Sunday’s 5-1 defeat in Vancouver left them 0-3-1 on their bad westerly trip.
Boughner said the faceoff circle — Florida lost 54 percent of the draws — and his best players’ poor play were major downfalls. Vancouver scored two late empty-net goals late to blow open a close game.
“We just couldn’t find the next one in a 1-1 game. The faceoff circle was really the difference in the game. We had some guys, especially some of our big guys, who had very average or below-average games,” Boughner said.
Montreal (25-17-5) will play the second game of a back-to-back when it faces Florida, and with Price starting in Boston against the Bruins on Monday, there’s a good chance Niemi could again get the call against the Panthers.
In the 746th regular-season meeting between the Original Six teams — the most by any two clubs against one another — Jeff Petry‘s rebound goal on a chest-high swing 15 seconds into overtime gave the Canadiens a 3-2 win and a 2-2 split in the season series. Montreal won for just the second time against Boston in its last 10 (2-5-3).
Price was outstanding in making 41 saves for the Canadiens (8-4-0 in last 12), who jumped up to the top wild card spot and are only two points behind the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division.
Right wing Brendan Gallagher said Montreal is competing with a sense of desperation because of the playoff standings.
“We’re aware (of the standings). It seems like it’s that way every night,” said Gallagher, who scored Montreal’s first goal. “If you win, it’s hard to make up ground, but if you lose, you feel like you fall back pretty quickly. Every team in this position right now is pretty desperate and is not letting points slip away.”