With four games to go in the 2015-16 campaign, the outcomes of Montreal's remaining contests won't do much to affect the future of their organization. The Habs do, however, have an opportunity to affect the trajectory of their opponents' seasons. The Habs may have long ago vacated the seat of power in the Atlantic Division, but they still have a chance to manipulate its balance.
When the Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in regulation on Thursday night, they deprived the Lightning of a chance to enter the weekend with the division lead. Playing the team that leads the Lightning, the Florida Panthers, the Tricolore have the opportunity to cause another shift tonight.
Refreshingly, they may actually be equipped to do so. The laundry list of injuries has often neutered any attempts by the Habs to play spoiler, but with Brendan Gallagher ready to go, things should be different.
A line of Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, and Max Pacioretty has the potential to be the type of hyper-skilled, relentless top line that teams will be powerless to stop, and would give the Habs the type of weapon they haven't often had been able to deploy. If this trio can play to their ceiling this evening, we may witness the genesis of Montreal's next foundational piece on offence.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Canada (French): TVAS
In Canada (English): SN
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|51.2||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||49.2|
|0.96||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.23|
Know Your Enemy
Of course, even if Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, and Gallagher are a terror for opposing defences, they still have to deal with one of the league's premier goaltenders.
Roberto Luongo has been Florida's best player on many nights this season, and he'll get the start tonight. The veteran has been dependable, if not spectacular, this season, and will be fighting to bring his career record against the Habs to within one game of .500 tonight.
Up front, it's close to business as usual as the playoffs approach. Even without one of their young scorers, but assuming Jiri Hudler is a go after taking a stick to a sensitive area on Thursday, the Panthers can boast three scoring lines. The player absent is Vincent Trocheck, who suffered an ankle injury blocking a shot and is tracking toward a return near the end of the Panthers' first playoff round.
With the franchise single-season points record and home-ice advantage still on the line, the Panthers will be highly motivated.
Last Time Out
If tonight's game is anything like last time out, the Panthers will have their franchise record locked up after forty minutes. Two-and-a-half weeks ago, these two teams played an even, and uneventful first period. Then, the Habs caved in.
The period started with Nick Bjugstad putting his team up 2-0 by batting a puck out of mid-air, and a Trocheck effort wasn't far behind. The Florida forward wrapped around the Montreal net, beguiling Mike Condon and Darren Dietz, before setting up Jiri Hudler for an easy goal.
Alex Galchenyuk, whose line was the team's only offensive chance that night, used his wrister to put his team back within two, but that was as close as Montreal would get. Barkov would buy his team some extra insurance, sealing up a 4-1 win.
The game, overall, felt like it was played between a team on its way up, and a team knowing it had hit the bottom. While Montreal still isn't going anywhere this season, perhaps the return of on its most important cogs will be enough to make the team play as if they are.