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Canadiens vs. Panthers recap: Powerplay secures overtime win, playoff berth

Two of the league's worst offences duke it out in a late-season special teams affair.

Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates after scoring the game winning goal in overtime during the NHL game against the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre on March 28, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates after scoring the game winning goal in overtime during the NHL game against the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre on March 28, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

After Ondrej Pavelec shut down the Montreal Canadiens' first attempt at securing a playoff berth on Thursday, the team returned home to face the playoff-hopeful Florida Panthers.  The two teams can be found in the bottom third of the league in goals scored per game, each relegated to such a low position in part because of bottom-tier man-advantage production, so the game seemed destined for a close five-on-five battle forcing the teams to grind out a victory.

It should have been no surprise that the game played out as a special teams battle of duelling powerplays.

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Image credit: HockeyStats.ca

Montreal was the first team to take advantage, with Jimmy Hayes serving a sentence in the box for a excessive complaint about a solid neutral zone bodycheck by Greg Pateryn.  After the first unit got some good chances on a late-first-period powerplay, the second wave with Nathan Beaulieu and Jeff Petry on the back end came out and maintained the quick movement.  The two blueliners recorded assists one second after the penalty had expired as a Panthers' defender's shot block redirected the puck through the slot directly into Lars Eller's shooting lane.  The forward fired the puck into the net as Roberto Luongo could not reposition himself after committing to the initial shot from Petry.

Florida answered six minutes into the second after a relatively harmless-looking Canadiens defence of a Panthers rush rapidly devolved into a mini-breakaway though the slot for Aleksander Barkov.  The sophomore centre accelerated by surprised members of the Habs' fourth line to lift a backhand shot over the shoulder of Carey Price.

With the exception of the defensive breakdowns that led to the goal, the fourth line of Brandon Prust, Torrey Mitchell, and Dale Weise had an excellent game from a possession standing, all leading the way with shot attempts for percentages around 70%.  The line was the only forward trio that managed to string more than one pass together at even strength all night, as the three other units saw their play stutter along with out-of-sync offside calls and an inordinate amount of hand passes.

The Max PaciorettyDavid DesharnaisP.A. Parenteau grouping struggled mightily in the game, putting up possession numbers around 30% despite receiving the most offensive deployment of any line.  I feel that Parenteau is at his offensive best when he plays alongside Alex Galchenyuk, as those two seem to complement each other's style and have generated some good chances in their time together this season as a result.

One of the many times the top line found itself in its own end gave the Panthers their first powerplay opportunity of the game, as David Desharnais was called for interference around the midway mark of the second.

Barkov tipped in his second goal of the game on the ensuing powerplay to give the Panthers their first lead of the contest.

The goal came versus the defensive duo of Petry and Alexei Emelin, which was absolutely dreadful, with both players severely out-attempted by their opponents.  After each was on the ice for four goals against versus Winnipeg the game before, their performance in last night's game makes it obvious that this particular pairing option does not work.

Soon after the go-ahead goal, Dave Bolland cross-checked Desharnais into the boards from behind to put Montreal back on the powerplay.  This time it was Florida's turn to have a defensive breakdown, as Galchenyuk was left alone near the side of the net to walk out in front and place a shot short-side on Luongo the level things up once again with his 20th goal of the season.

No scoring occurred in the third period, though it wasn't without its drama.

For the 24th time in their 75 games, the Florida Panthers went beyond regulation time.

The atrociousness of the Petry-Emelin pairing may have been obvious to any outside observer paying attention to their recent performance, but apparently not to the coaching staff as the duo was out for the opening faceoff of the overtime period.  The Panthers took advantage of the situation and got an excellent chance to end the game and secure the vital second point, but Brian Campbell's shot missed the net.

The Panthers tempted their post-season fate as Vincent Trocheck rapped his stick off the helmet of Lars Eller to give the Canadiens a four-on-three powerplay with just over two minutes to go in the extra frame.

Fate didn't appear to be concerned with the Panthers' plight, as Max Pacioretty converted what was essentially the third (but officially just the second) powerplay marker of the game from a cross-crease pass from David Desharnais.  The goal increases the Nutmegger's season total to 36.  P.K. Subban registered his 40th assist of the year on the game-winning goal.

With the 3-2 overtime victory, Montreal mathematically clinched a playoff spot.  The team will hope to achieve its next goal of home-ice advantage in the first round as it will try for a fifth and final time to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night.