The Canadiens looked to quickly move on from a frustrating loss in Tampa Bay Wednesday night with a good start and even better finish against the Panthers. As both teams were on the second of back-to-backs, it was a battle of the backups with James Reimer starting in net for the Florida and Al Montoya backstopping Montreal.
Brendan Gallagher was quick to make his presence felt, buzzing around the ice, putting the pressure on the Panthers’ defense and nearly connecting on a two-on-one with Max Pacioretty.
The teams continued to trade chances until Florida won a puck battle down low in the Habs’ end sending the puck out to Jussi Jokinen. Montoya made the first save off a Jason Demers shot but the rebound bounced off Shea Weber and then behind Montoya to open the scoring and give the Panthers the early lead.
The Canadiens responded by pouring on the pressure in the Panthers end, creating some good chances both in close and with some wide open point shots but were unable to equalize. The first period ended with the Panthers up 1-0, despite the Canadiens leading 15-9 in shots.
Michael McCarron took offense to a bump from Shawn Thornton early in the second period, leading to a brief fisticuffs with, inexplicably, Paul Thompson. Thompson received an extra minor on the play for roughing/getting beat up, sending the Habs right back on the powerplay.
This time the Habs managed more pressure right from the start with some pretty passing and a flurry of shots culminating in a Pacioretty goal from the high slot. The goal extended the captain’s point streak against Florida to six games and tied the game at one.
A short while later, it was Florida’s turn on the powerplay as Chris Terry was sent to sit for two or less for holding the stick of Nick Bjugstad. The Habs were able to limit Florida’s chances for the majority of the powerplay until, with just seven seconds remaining on the powerplay, Jokinen screened Montoya as Vincent Trochek scored with a snapshot off a faceoff win. Just like that, the Panthers had back their one goal lead.
Almost immediately, Jeff Petry gave the Panthers another chance on the powerplay when he was called for hooking. The Canadiens managed to kill the penalty off with the help of a spectacular sprawling save by Montoya on Aaron Ekblad to keep the game close.
The teams continued to trade chances at even strength with Alexander Radulov leading the way for the Canadiens.
Things got a little interesting in the third when a puck misplayed by a wandering Montoya almost gave Thornton an easy tap-in but luckily the Canadiens emerged unscathed.
The period continued with back-and-forth hockey as the Canadiens continued to press for the tying goal. With five minutes to go and the Habs pressuring in the offensive zone, Bjugstad gave the net some help off its moorings; despite Michel Therrien’s best attempts, play continued on at even strength.
With the period ticking down, the Canadiens rushed down the ice and slick pass by Philip Danault found Gallagher who finally - FINALLY - put the puck behind Reimer to tie the game at two and give him just a little momentary relief.
The goal would send the game to extra frames for the second time in two nights for both teams.
Pacioretty had a great chance less than 10 seconds into overtime, knocking the puck high off the outside of the post, sending it out of play.
Less than a minute later, a nifty play by Pacioretty on the boards in the defensive zone sprung Danault on a breakaway. The Canadiens’ de facto first line centre used his speed and made no mistake, winning the game with a laser of a shot that beat Reimer.
-Gallagher had more offensive chances in this game than he had in the past few games combined. He finally managed to fling the King Kong-sized monkey off his back and you have to think he’ll be finding himself on the score sheet more regularly from here on out.
-The Habs played a good east-west passing game tonight. They had the Panthers moving and were connecting to create a fair number of scoring chances. The lack of finish on those scoring chances almost burned them; they’ll have to find ways to bury those chances playing the next few weeks without their most dangerous forward.
-Speaking of - Phillip Danault has had the role of top line centre thrust upon him in the absence of a great many Canadiens forwards and he’s performed admirably under that pressure. His quickness played a factor on the game-tying and game-winning goals and he’s currently looking like another smart pick-up by Marc Bergevin.
-As McCarron becomes a regular in the Canadiens lineup, people will learn not to try to fight him. It’s generally a bad idea.
-Al Montoya looked good. He deserved this win, if only for that highlight reel save. You can bet his teammates were definitely happy to finally get him a W.