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Canadiens vs. Panthers recap: A Pyrrhic victory for the Habs

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The Habs had offense and health on the mind as they faced the Panthers.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

With the playoffs looming, the Canadiens were looking to accomplish two things; remain healthy, and somehow produce secondary scoring to supplement Max Pacioretty's offensive prowess. The latter was achieved, but unfortunately for the Habs, the former was not.

Running out of ideas, Michel Therrien elected to start Devante Smith-Pelly on Pacioretty's opposite wing, in a last bid effort to jump start the struggling forward. Smith-Pelly only had one goal to his credit since December 3, and was going through the worst scoring drought of his career.

Sadly, the new line did not get a chance to create much chemistry, given the untimely injury to Pacioretty. Dmitry Kulikov ran some interference on Montreal's superstar sniper, resulting in an awkward fall, in which Pacioretty slammed his head on the boards. He was clearly dazed, and although the team has not released any additional information regarding the injury, it's safe to assume they're taking all the precautions necessary.

The Habs have three pillars of strength. Carey Price, P.K. Subban, and Pacioretty. Losing any of them for an extended period of time would be disastrous. Without Pacioretty in the lineup Montreal's already anemic offense takes an enormous hit, but more on that later.

Tomas Plekanec cashed in on Florida's early discipline, banking a pass off Dan Ellis to give the Habs an early lead. It was Plekanec's 200th goal during his fantastic career, and his 24th of the season. The one-goal lead would hold until the second period, when Calder favourite Aaron Ekblad blasted a powerplay slapshot past the league's best goalie.

The situation seemed to go from bad to worse, when another one of Montreal's pillars went down, this time it was Subban's turn, taking a puck to the face. Thankfully he would return to the bench, lowering the collective heart rate of Habs fans in the process.

It's a good thing he stayed in the game, seeing as how the potential Norris finalist did a marvelous job setting up the go-ahead goal. With four Panthers between himself and a streaking Brendan Gallagher, Subban threaded the needle, giving his rush partner a perfect opportunity to restore the lead. Gallagher made no mistake, matching Plekanec's 24 goals on the season.

The Habs weren't done there. P.A. Parenteau produced a Herculean individual effort during a 3-on-1 rush, which resulted with a rather healthy rebound from Ellis' pads. Parenteau pounced on his own rebound,  extending Montreal's lead to 3-1.

shots

To top it all off, Smith-Pelly managed to finally score his first goal in a Habs uniform. Parenteau engaged in a feisty forecheck, which resulted in him stripping the puck from the Florida cycle. He quickly flipped the puck to a waiting Smith-Pelly on the goalmouth, giving the Canadiens a rare three-goal lead.

The lowdown
  • Brendan Gallagher was fantastic, as were his two linemates, Plekanec and Galchenyuk. Pending the length of Pacioretty's injury, this line will be key if the Habs hope to sustain any sort of offensive output.
  • When it comes to running Price, it's a nightly marathon. There's really no good solution to the problem, and with the playoffs looming you have to expect Montreal's eventual first-round opponent will use the same tactic, which is a frightening thought.
  • P-A Parenteau arguably had his best game of the year, which should delight his coach. The Habs lack scoring depth on the right wing, and Parenteau is the player best-suited to fill that gap.
  • Plekanec scored his 200th goal, Carey Price tied a franchise record for wins, Michel Therrien earned his 200th win as head coach of the Canadiens, leading them to their highest point total since 1997-98. As a fun kicker, this campaign's point totals are better than any season in Toronto Maple Leafs history.
  • It's impossible to overstate how important Pacioretty is to Montreal's lineup. He's been directly involved in over 32% of the Habs' scoring plays this season, scoring 18% of the team's total goals. He's responsible for 13% of the team's total shots on net, and is far and away the team leader when it comes to creating individual scoring chances, with 213. To get an idea how impressive that is, Sidney Crosby clocks in at 166 individual scoring chances this season. Only four players in the entire league are credited with more scoring chances; Alex Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, John Tavares, and Steven Stamkos.
We'll have to keep an eye out for updates regarding Pacioretty's status, but as you can see, the Habs would be absolutely lost without him. There aren't many other players in the league that do a better job scoring goals, and there aren't many other playoff teams that struggle to score as much as the Habs. If Pacioretty returns to the lineup, and the secondary scoring continues, the Habs are in great shape heading into the playoffs. If, however, he's out for a prolonged period of games, the Habs will become a prime target for a first-round upset.

There are only two games remaining in Montreal's 2014-15 schedule. They'll receive the Red Wings on Thursday, and close out the season against the Maple Leafs on Saturday.